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Blue-Whale-Size Asteroid will Zip through Earth’s Orbit on Friday

According to NASA, a Blue-Whale-sized asteroid that is “possibly dangerous” is scheduled to fly past Earth on Friday, August 12. (opens in new tab). The asteroid, designated 2015 FF, will fly past the Earth at a speed of 20,512 mph (33,012 km/h) and has an estimated diameter of between 42 and 92 feet (13 and 28 metres), or around the length of an adult Blue-Whale (Balaenoptera musculus).

At its closest, the asteroid will pass Earth at a distance of approximately 2.67 million miles (4.3 million kilometres), or nearly eight times the normal distance between Earth and the moon. It will be travelling at roughly 27 times the speed of sound. This is a modest margin by cosmic standards.

A space object is classified as a “near-Earth object” by NASA if it is within 120 million miles (193 million km) of Earth and is classified as “possibly dangerous” if it is within 4.65 million miles (7.5 million km). When an item is marked, astronomers constantly watch it for any departure from its estimated trajectory that may place it on a deadly crash course with Earth, such an unexpected bounce off another asteroid.

The Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS), an array of four telescopes capable of completing a full survey of the whole night sky once every 24 hours, is used by NASA to determine the position and orbit of over 28,000 asteroids. Since ATLAS went live in 2017, it has discovered 66 comets and well over 700 near-Earth asteroids. 2019 MO and 2018 LA, two of the asteroids discovered by ATLAS, did make contact with Earth; the former exploded off the coast of Puerto Rico, and the latter landed close to the boundary between Botswana and South Africa. Fortunately, those asteroid fragments were tiny and uninjured.

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