A large, potentially dangerous asteroid will pass close to Earth: should we be worried?

The asteroid’s passage is scheduled for January 18, 2022. Its next approach will take place in 2105. (©Pixabay/Illustration)

He will pass very close. And yet so far. “1994 PC1” of its small name is in fact a very large asteroid. About 1 kilometer and therefore is classified as a “Potentially dangerous asteroid”.

It is not only its size that matters, its regular visits to our planet are also worrying. “It passes relatively close to the Earth at interval of a hundred years“, Says Antonella Barucci, astronomer at the Paris Observatory – PSL.

And his next approach is scheduled for Tuesday January 18, 2022 at 9:51 pm.

Very big, very close

There is no shortage of comparisons to quantify this large spatial stone. Three times the Eiffel Tower, two and a half times the Empire State Building or a dozen football fields. Imposing therefore, this asteroid.

Its size and relative proximity will make it visible on January 18.

Because it passes near. Finally, only 1,993,000 kilometers away, “Five times the distance from Earth to the moon,” says Antonella Barucci.

Enough to keep this dear blue planet out of harm’s way? The asteroid specialist is categorical:

There is no risk of him falling to earth.

Antonella BarucciAstronomer at the Paris Observatory

“We have a lot of information about it,” the astronomer explains. “Its orbit is well calculated, and for a long time.” Indeed, “1994 PC1” was discovered in 1994.

To watch it you will have to equip yourself

If you want to see, “1994 PC1”, you will need a telescope of at least six inches, because it is not bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.
Otherwise, the Virtual Telescope project will allow you to observe it safely. Take advantage of it, because its next visit is scheduled for January 18, 2105.

What would happen if it touched Earth?

Breath of relief, the doomsday scenario is avoided. But hypothetically, what would be the consequences if an asteroid of this size were to hit Earth.

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« It would be a disaster“, Predicts Antonella Barucci. “The danger would be very important. There would be colossal damage, tsunamis etc. “Especially since 1994 PC1 is a Type S asteroid, that is to say it is composed of silicates and would not be friable when it entered the Earth’s atmosphere.

But immediately, the astronomer reassures us.

We believe we have discovered all asteroids of this size. At least over 99% of them in our solar system. There is no probability that any of them will hit Earth.

Antonella BarucciAstronomer at the Paris Observatory

Missions to counter asteroids

On the other hand, there remain asteroids unknown to scientists. “These are the ones that are smaller than 100 meters,” says Antonella Barucci. Their impact on the planet would be less serious but should not be neglected, especially if they arrive near densely populated cities.

To protect itself, the European Union is funding studies on these small asteroids. “The goal is to have a space mission“, Underlines the astronomer.

This is reminiscent of NASA’s Dart mission which consists of sending a ship crashing into an asteroid in order to deviate it from its path.

In order to be prepared for all eventualities, the European Space Agency is planning a mission of this kind, “Hera”, in order to study in turn “the effect of a collision on an asteroid”, notes Antonella Barucci. The departure is scheduled for 2024.

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