Japan Space Probe To Bring Asteroid Dust To Earth

Call it a special delivery: after six years in space, Japan’s Hayabusa-2 probe is heading home, but only to drop off its rare asteroid samples before starting a new mission.

The fridge-sized probe, launched in December 2014, has already thrilled scientists by landing on and gathering material from an asteroid some 300 million kilometres (185 million miles) from Earth.

Hayabusa-2 will near Earth to drop off rare asteroid samples before heading back into deep space on a new extended mission Hayabusa-2 will near Earth to drop off rare asteroid samples before heading back into deep space on a new extended mission Photo: AFP / Behrouz MEHRI

But its work isn’t over yet, with scientists from Japan’s space agency JAXA now planning to extend its mission for more than a decade and targeting two new asteroids.

Before that mission can begin, Hayabusa-2 needs to drop off its precious samples from the asteroid Ryugu — “dragon palace” in Japanese.

Scientists are hoping the capsule will contain around 0.1 grams of material that will offer clues about what the solar system was like at its birth some 4.6 billion years ago.

Graphic explaining how Japan's Hayabusa-2 space probe will drop off asteroid samples to Earth before starting a new mission Graphic explaining how Japan’s Hayabusa-2 space probe will drop off asteroid samples to Earth before starting a new mission Photo: AFP / Janis LATVELS

The samples could shed light on “how matter is scattered around the solar system, why it exists on the asteroid and how it is related to Earth,” project manager Yuichi Tsuda told reporters ahead of Sunday’s drop-off.

The material is in a capsule that will separate from Hayabusa-2 while it is some 220,000 kilometres above Earth and then plummet into the southern Australian desert.

They were collected during two crucial phases of the mission last year.

Hayabusa-2 needs to drop off its precious samples from the asteroid Ryugu - 'dragon palace' in Japanese Hayabusa-2 needs to drop off its precious samples from the asteroid Ryugu – ‘dragon palace’ in Japanese Photo: JIJI PRESS / Handout

In the first, Hayabusa-2 touched down on Ryugu to collect dust before firing an “impactor” to stir up pristine material from below the surface. Months later, it touched down to collect additional samples.

“We may be able to get substances that will give us clues to the birth of a planet and the origin of life… I’m very interested to see the substances,” mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa told reporters.

Half the material from Ryugu will be kept for future study as advances are made in analytic technology Half the material from Ryugu will be kept for future study as advances are made in analytic technology Photo: Jaumann et. al., Science 2019 / HO

Protected from sunlight and radiation inside the capsule, the samples will be collected, processed, then flown to Japan.

Half the material will be shared between JAXA, US space agency NASA and other international organisations, and the rest kept for future study as advances are made in analytic technology.

Videographic presenting the Hayabusa2 mission. Nearly six years after its launch from the Tanegashima space centre in Japan, the Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 is on the verge of completing its mission.
VIDEOGRAPHICS Videographic presenting the Hayabusa2 mission. Nearly six years after its launch from the Tanegashima space centre in Japan, the Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 is on the verge of completing its mission.
VIDEOGRAPHICS
Photo: AFP VIDEOGRAPHICS/CNES/JAXA / David Lory

After dropping off its samples, Hayabusa-2 will complete a series of orbits around the sun for around six years — recording data on dust in interplanetary space and observing exoplanets.

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NASA: Mystery object is 54-year-old rocket, not asteroid

Scientists have confirmed that a mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is a 54-year-old rocket, not an asteroid after all

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is a 54-year-old rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday.

The object was classified as an asteroid after its discovery in September. But NASA’s top asteroid expert, Paul Chodas, quickly suspected it was the Centaur upper rocket stage from Surveyor 2, a failed 1966 moon-landing mission. Size estimates had put it in the range of the old Centaur, which was about 32 feet (10 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter.

“Today’s news was super gratifying!,” Chodas said via email. “It was teamwork that wrapped up this puzzle.”

The object formally known as 2020 SO entered a wide, lopsided orbit around Earth last month and, on Tuesday, made its closest approach at just over 31,000 miles (50,476 kilometers). It will depart the neighborhood in March, shooting back into its own orbit around the sun. Its next return: 2036.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Mystery object is 54-year-old rocket, not asteroid

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is a 54-year-old rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday.



FILE - This Sept. 20, 1966 photo provided by the San Diego Air and Space Museum shows an Atlas Centaur 7 rocket on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, Fla. A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is the Centaur upper stage of this 54-year-old rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Observations by a telescope in Hawaii clinched its identity, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (Convair/General Dynamics Astronautics Atlas Negative Collection/San Diego Air and Space Museum via AP)


© Provided by Associated Press
FILE – This Sept. 20, 1966 photo provided by the San Diego Air and Space Museum shows an Atlas Centaur 7 rocket on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, Fla. A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is the Centaur upper stage of this 54-year-old rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Observations by a telescope in Hawaii clinched its identity, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (Convair/General Dynamics Astronautics Atlas Negative Collection/San Diego Air and Space Museum via AP)

Observations by a telescope in Hawaii clinched its identity, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The object was classified as an asteroid after its discovery in September. But NASA’s top asteroid expert, Paul Chodas, quickly suspected it was the Centaur upper rocket stage from Surveyor 2, a failed 1966 moon-landing mission. Size estimates had put it in the range of the old Centaur, which was about 32 feet (10 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter.



In this Aug. 13, 1965 photo provided by the San Diego Air and Space Museum, technicians work on an Atlas Centaur 7 rocket at Cape Canaveral, Fla. A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is a Centaur 7 upper stage rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Observations by a telescope in Hawaii clinched its identity, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (Convair/General Dynamics Astronautics Atlas Negative Collection/San Diego Air and Space Museum via AP)


© Provided by Associated Press
In this Aug. 13, 1965 photo provided by the San Diego Air and Space Museum, technicians work on an Atlas Centaur 7 rocket at Cape Canaveral, Fla. A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is a Centaur 7 upper stage rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Observations by a telescope in Hawaii clinched its identity, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (Convair/General Dynamics Astronautics Atlas Negative Collection/San Diego Air and Space Museum via AP)

Chodas was proven right after a team led by the University of Arizona’s Vishnu Reddy used an infrared telescope in Hawaii to observe not only the mystery object, but — just on Tuesday — a Centaur from 1971 still orbiting Earth. The data from the images matched.

“Today’s news was super gratifying!,” Chodas said via email. “It was teamwork that wrapped up this puzzle.”

The object formally known as 2020 SO entered a wide, lopsided orbit around Earth last month and, on Tuesday, made its closest approach at just over 31,000 miles (50,476 kilometers). It will depart the neighborhood in March, shooting back into its own orbit around the sun. Its next return: 2036.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Japan is about to bring back samples of an asteroid 180 million miles away

Sample return missions are becoming increasingly in vogue, as evidenced by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission and China’s current Chang’e 5 drilling operation on the moon. But they aren’t easy. In February 2019, Hayabusa2 landed on the surface and fired two small bullets into the asteroid to stir up a cloud of particles from which the sample arm could collect debris. It fired a larger projectile in April that same year, diving down to the surface a couple months later to retrieve even more ejected material. 

Whereas the first Hayabusa mission was only able to bring back a millionth of a gram through this approach, there’s optimism Hayabusa2 will bring back much more. “I am proud of this success, even though I don’t know yet that the re-entry [of the sample capsule] will be successful,” says Eri Tatsumi, a planetary scientist at the University of La Laguna in Spain who has been working directly with Hayabusa2’s data so far.

Asteroids are like time capsules of ancient space history because their physical and chemical composition is much better preserved over time than, say, a planet’s (whose internal heating and potential magnetic field and atmosphere encourages ongoing activity). In this case, studying material from Ryugu can help us understand what the early solar system was like when massive amounts of gas and dust were coalescing into different asteroids, moons, and planets—including habitable worlds like Earth. 

“What we would like to know is what the processes are that shaped the solar system,” says Tatsumi. “I would like to know what kind of organics are in Ryugu—if it has the building blocks for life.” She believes studying Ryugu’s samples could allow scientists to “add another page to our knowledge about the materials in the early solar system,” and what kinds of elements and compounds might have been delivered to the early Earth via meteorite impacts. Ryugu itself seems to be too fragile to survive a present-day entry into Earth’s atmosphere, so it’s likely quite different from the meteorite remains on Earth we have been able to analyze so far.

In addition, there are some peculiar things about Ryugu’s history that require the type of context you can only get from laboratory analysis. Tomokatsu Morota, a planetary scientist from the University of Tokyo, led a team that studied Ryugu’s surface using images taken by Hayabusa2’s cameras. The team noticed alterations on the surface caused by solar heating. “This suggests a scenario where Ryugu underwent an orbital excursion near the sun,” he says. A closer look at the rock fragments could help confirm whether that happened or not.

Hayabusa2 will drop off the sample capsule of Ryugu material in just a few days. It must survive a fiery reentry before landing in Australia. The spacecraft itself, however, will head back out for an extended mission—first to asteroid 2001 CC21 for a flyby in July 2026, and then a formal rendezvous with asteroid 1998 KY26 in July 2031. In between those highlights the spacecraft will make a pair of

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180-Foot Asteroid Will Come Extremely Close To Earth Thursday, Will Be Closer Than Moon

KEY POINTS

  • A 180-foot asteroid called 2020 VZ6 will be zipping by Earth Thursday
  • The asteroid will be closer to the planet than the moon at one point during its flyby
  • The space rock has not been included in the European Space Agency’s Risk List

A 180-foot asteroid will be zipping by Earth at a very close distance this week, according to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).

A near-Earth asteroid (NEA) called 2020 VZ6 is currently making its way toward Earth’s vicinity and is set to make its closest approach to the planet Thursday. With a diameter reaching 180 feet (55 meters), this asteroid is estimated to be as tall as the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. The freestanding bell tower has a height of about 185 feet (56 meters).

The NEA’s size isn’t the most interesting part about it. 2020 VZ6, according to the CNEOS’ close approach data table, will fly by the planet very closely and will at one point be closer to Earth than even the moon.

At 6:06 a.m. EST, the asteroid will zip by at a distance of 214,000 miles (345,000 kilometers) away from the planet’s surface. This is less than one lunar distance (LD), or 238,000 miles, which is the distance of the moon from the Earth. 

Despite its close approach, 2020 VZ6 has not been included in the European Space Agency’s Risk List, which means it has no chance of entering Earth’s atmosphere and hitting the planet when it makes its flyby Thursday.

Asteroid 2020 VZ6 was discovered on Nov. 14. Considered an Apollo asteroid, the NEA follows an Earth-crossing orbit. This type of orbit intersects with that of the planet at a certain point. This would mean that close approaches are more likely to occur among Apollo asteroids.

The CNEOS is responsible for providing data pages for every near-Earth object (NEO) that passes by the planet. Information provided by the center includes orbital parameters, a close approach summary of the NEO, an interactive orbit viewer for better viewing of its route and other facts such as its discovery date.

The CNEOS is part of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which predicts all NEO close approaches to Earth. Comprehensive assessments are made regarding each NEO/NEA and are uploaded to the site for the public to access.

In the event of a predicted impact of an NEA, CNEOS is the one assigned to provide the public with information on the impact time, location and geometry of the asteroid.

nasa giant asteroid vesta This full view of the giant asteroid Vesta was taken by NASA Dawn spacecraft, as part of a rotation characterization sequence on July 24, 2011, at a distance of 3,200 miles and shows impact craters of various sizes and grooves parallel to the equator. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

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December’s Geminid meteor shower comes from the asteroid Phaethon

On Sunday night, December 13, countless meteors will shoot across the sky as space particles burn up in our atmosphere and meet a fiery end. Most meteor showers occur when Earth slams into debris left behind by a comet.

But not this meteor shower, which is likely to be the most spectacular of the year. Known as the Geminid shower, it strikes every December and arises not from a flamboyant comet but from an ordinary asteroid — the first, but not the last, linked to a meteor shower.

Although both comets and asteroids are small objects orbiting the sun, icy comets sprout beautiful tails when their ice vaporizes in the heat of the sun. In contrast, asteroids have earned the name “vermin of the skies” for streaking through and ruining photographs of celestial vistas by reflecting the sun’s light.

So how can a mere asteroid outdo all of the glamorous comets and spawn a meteor shower that surpasses its rivals? “It remains a mystery,” says David Jewitt, an astronomer at UCLA. It’s akin to an ugly duckling’s offspring usurping the beautiful swan’s to win first place in a beauty contest.

Astronomers still don’t know the secret to the asteroid’s success in creating a shower that at its peak normally produces more meteors per hour than any other shower of the year. Three years ago, however, the asteroid swung extra close to Earth and gave scientists their best chance to study the humble space rock. They now look forward to the launch of a spacecraft that will image the asteroid’s surface.

Cosmic connections

Astronomers first linked a meteor shower to a comet in 1866. They connected the well-known Perseid meteors, visible to most of the world every August, with a comet named Swift-Tuttle that had passed Earth four years earlier. Astronomers later matched most major meteor showers with one comet or another.

When a comet’s ice vaporizes in sunlight, dust grains also fly off the comet. These dust particles, called meteoroids, sprinkle along the comet’s orbit like a dandelion gone to seed. If Earth plows into this long dust stream, we see a fiery shower as the particles hit our atmosphere. The typical meteoroid is no larger than a grain of sand, but it travels so fast that it energizes electrons both in its own atoms as it disintegrates and in atmospheric atoms and molecules. As these electrons lose energy, they emit the streak of light — the meteor — that looks as though a star has fallen from the sky.

Still, as comet after comet was linked to different meteor showers, the Geminids remained apart; no one knew their source.

The Geminid meteors stood out in other ways, too. Unlike the Perseid meteors, which people have been observing for nearly 2,000 years, the Geminids are relatively new. First reports of their existence came from England and the United States

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An Object Approaching Earth’s Orbit Is Not An Asteroid [Infographic]

The Pan-STARRS1 survey telescope on Maui has discovered an object that is headed for Earth’s orbit. This isn’t out of the ordinary except that this object is apparently not an asteroid. In fact, it may even be man-made. After studying the new object scientists concluded that it’s not dense enough to be a solid object. Which means it is probably hollow. This has led to the theory that this object might be the Centaur upper stage rocket booster that helped NASA’s Surveyor 2 reach the Moon in 1966.

Earlier this year in September the mysterious object was discovered and named 2020 SO. As astronomers continued to observe the object, they noticed that the Sun’s radiation was changing the object’s trajectory. This means that the object is most likely not an asteroid as radiation from the Sun would have a hard time pushing a solid object of this size. However, if the object were hollow or if it just has a low density then the effect of the radiation would be explained.

“Solar radiation pressure is a non-gravitational force that is caused by light photons emitted by the Sun hitting a natural or artificial object,” said Davide Farnocchia, a navigation engineer at JPL, who analyzed 2020 SO’s trajectory for CNEOS. “The resulting acceleration on the object depends on the so-called area-to-mass ratio, which is greater for small and light, low-density objects.”

If 2020 SO is not an asteroid then what could it be? Well CNEOS Director Paul Chodas looked at the speed and trajectory of the object and turned back the clock to see where the object came from. As it turns out one of the possibilities is that it came close to Earth in 1966. After checking launch dates it seems that everything matches up with the Surveyor 2 mission.

For now, this is still unconfirmed, however, 2020 SO will make two loops around the Earth between now and March when it will leave the influence of Earth’s gravity and continue in its orbit around the sun. During that time it will be the closest on December 1st and astronomers should be able to get a fairly good look. 

Never a boring month when it comes to near-Earth objects. Below is a list of objects coming close to our planet in the coming month (2020 SO is of course on the list). For more information please visit the CNEOS website.

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820-Foot Asteroid Is Zooming Toward Earth At 68,000 Mph, To Make Close Approach This Week

KEY POINTS

  • 2020 WD5 will zip past Earth on Thursday 
  • The NEA is taller than the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
  • The NEA has not been added to the ESA Risk List

To welcome the final month of the year is an 820 ft (250 m) asteroid, according to the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). The giant, which is expected to be three-fourths as tall as the Eiffel Tower, is set to pass Thursday.

CNEOS’ Close Approach Data Table reported that a Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) identified as 2020 WD5 is hurtling toward Earth this week. The NEA is said to be traveling at a speed of 18 miles per second (about 68,000 mph) and is expected to make its close approach Thursday, at 4:27 p.m. EDT.

The asteroid 2020 WD5 is about three-fourths as big as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. The tower, considered as the largest structure in Paris, stands at a height of 1,060 ft (323 m). For residents in San Francisco, the NEA would be taller than the Golden Gate Bridge in California. The height of each tower of the bridge is about 745 feet (227 m).

Luckily, the European Space Agency (ESA) has not included the giant NEA on its Risk List, although it still is under close observation by the agency. 2020 WD5’s closest approach with the planet will be about 3,900,000 miles (6,000,000 km) away from the planet’s surface.

2020 WD5 is an Apollo NEA, which means it follows an orbit that crosses that of the Earth. Asteroids with Earth-crossing orbits have a higher chance of having close approaches with the planet, with some entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Database Browser indicated that the NEA was first discovered on Nov. 18.

Asteroid The left-hand image shows SPHERE observations of Asteroid 1999 KW4. The angular resolution in this image is equivalent to picking out a single building in New York — from Paris. An artist’s impression of the asteroid pair is shown on the right. Photo: ESO

The CNEOS is responsible for making comprehensive assessments of near-Earth objects which pass near the planet. Continually updated calculations of orbital parameters, close approaches, and impact risks of asteroids are available on the website.

CNEOS provides a data page for every NEO, providing its parameters, approach summary, and an interactive orbit viewer which enables viewers to get a better view of the NEO. The parameters of each NEO are archived in the JPL Small-Body DataBase (SBDB).

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Japan spacecraft carrying asteroid soil samples nears home

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese spacecraft is nearing Earth after a yearlong journey home from a distant asteroid with soil samples and data that could provide clues to the origins of the solar system, a space agency official said Friday.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft left the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth, a year ago and is expected to reach Earth and drop a capsule containing the precious samples in southern Australia on Dec. 6.

Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency believe the samples, especially those taken from under the asteroid’s surface, contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors.


Makoto Yoshikawa, a Hayabusa2 project mission manager, said scientists are especially interested in analyzing organic materials in the Ryugu soil samples.

“Organic materials are origins of life on Earth, but we still don*t know where they came from,” Yoshikawa said. “We are hoping to find clues to the origin of life on Earth by analyzing details of the organic materials brought back by Hayabusa2.”

JAXA, the space agency, plans to drop the capsule containing the samples onto a remote, sparsely populated area in Australia from 220,000 kilometers (136,700 miles) away in space, a big challenge requiring precision control. The capsule, protected by a heat shield, will turn into a fireball during re-entry in the atmosphere at 200 kilometers (125 miles) above ground. At about 10 kilometers (6 miles) above ground, a parachute will open to prepare for landing, and beacon signals will be transmitted to indicate its location.

JAXA staff have set up satellite dishes at several locations in the target area to catch the signals, while also preparing marine radar, drones and helicopters to assist in the search and retrieval mission.

Without those measures, a search for the pan-shaped capsule with a diameter of 40 centimeters (15 inches) “would be an extremely difficult,” Yoshikawa told reporters.

For Hayabusa2, it’s not the end of the mission it started in 2014. After dropping the capsule, it will return to space and head to another distant small asteroid called 1998KY26 on a journey slated to take 10 years.

Hayabusa2 touched down on Ryugu twice, despite its extremely rocky surface, and successfully collected data and samples during the 1½ years after it arrived there in June 2018.

In the first touchdown in February 2019, it collected surface dust samples. In July, it collected underground samples from the asteroid for the first time in space history after landing in a crater that it had earlier created by blasting the asteroid’s surface.

Scientists said there are traces of carbon and organic matter in the asteroid soil samples. JAXA hopes to find clues to how the materials are distributed in the solar system and are related to life on Earth.

Asteroids, which orbit the sun but are much smaller than planets, are among the oldest objects in the solar system and therefore may help explain how Earth evolved.

It took the spacecraft 3½ years to arrive at Ryugu,

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2,690-Foot Asteroid Makes Close Approach To Earth On Thanksgiving Weekend

KEY POINTS

  • A massive asteroid will pass by Earth Sunday at 1:08 a.m. EST, according to NASA’s CNEOS
  • The space rock is estimated to be as massive as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai at 2,690 feet
  • The giant asteroid will zip past Earth harmlessly and is not included in the ESA’s Risk List

Passing by this Thanksgiving weekend is a rare 2,690-foot asteroid — a memorable way to mark this year’s holiday amid the pandemic.

Data gathered by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies showed that an asteroid nearly as massive as the Burj Khalifa is expected to zip past Earth Sunday at 1:08 a.m. EST.

The giant asteroid, identified as 153201 (2000 WO107), is the biggest among the several near-Earth asteroids (NEA) that will make close approaches to Earth this week. If the visual of the Burj Khalifa (2,720 feet) in Dubai is not enough to give an idea about the space rock’s size, imagine stacking two Empire State Buildings (1,250 feet) on top of each other.

A 2,690-foot asteroid hurtling toward the planet certainly isn’t a pleasant thought to have during the holidays, especially if one considers the damage it could potentially cause if it crashes on Earth. However, the CNEOS has confirmed that the asteroid will pass by harmlessly when it makes its flyby in a few days.

The asteroid has not been included in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Risk List and is also not a part of the space agency’s Priority List, which means it doesn’t pose a threat to Earth.

The closest distance asteroid 153201 (2000 WO107) will get is about 2.6 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) away from the surface of the planet, according to the CNEOS’ Close Approach Data Table.

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Small-Body Database Browser said the space rock was discovered about 20 years ago on Nov. 29, 2000.

The NEA is classified as an Aten asteroid, which means it has an Earth-crossing orbit that intersects with that of the planet at certain points. Aten asteroids have a higher chance of making a close approach to Earth due to the shape of their orbits. 

CNEOS is responsible for predicting near-Earth objects’ (NEO) close approaches with Earth. Continuously making calculations on different asteroid diameters, impact risks and statistics, the CNEOS publishes its findings on its website to inform the public about any updates concerning NEOs.

Burj Khalifa Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, is located outside of the Dubai Mall. Photo: Reuters

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