New Asteroid, 2023 DW, Might Come Within Striking Distance Of Earth On Valentine’s Day 2046

New Asteroid, 2023 DW, Might Come Within Striking Distance Of Earth On Valentine’s Day 2046

by Karan Kamble - Friday, March 10, 2023 10:47 AM IST
New Asteroid, 2023 DW, Might Come Within Striking Distance Of Earth On Valentine’s Day 2046The 2023 DW asteroid. (Screenshot from NASA's Eyes)
  • The newly discovered asteroid’s closest approach to Earth is estimated to take place on 14 February 2046. It will get within 0.05 AU of Earth.

A new asteroid named “2023 DW” has been found to have a chance — a very small one — of impacting Earth in February 2046.

The Planetary Defense Coordination Office of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) revealed that it has been tracking the asteroid.

Currently, the odds of impact are 1 in 560. Said another way, there’s a 99.82 per cent chance the asteroid will miss Earth.

In the very low chance that the asteroid does impact Earth, it will smash into the planet’s atmosphere at 15.43 kilometres per second (km/s).

“Orbit analysts will continue to monitor asteroid 2023 DW and update predictions as more data comes in,” NASA Asteroid Watch, the Twitter account of the office, said in a tweet.

The asteroid’s closest approach to Earth is estimated to take place on 14 February 2046. It will get within 0.05 AU of Earth.

“AU” is short for astronomical unit, a unit of length effectively equal to the average distance between Earth and the Sun, which is roughly 150 million kilometres.

2023 DW would be 1,828,086 km from Earth on closest approach.

The object finds a place in the risk and priority lists of the European Space Agency (ESA). But as more data comes in, scientists will arrive at a clear picture of the real possibility of impact.

“...don't worry, it's common for asteroids to initially appear more risky than they really are,” the ESA said in a tweet.

The new asteroid is currently at level 1 on the Torino Scale, which means that “a pass near the Earth is predicted that poses no unusual level of danger” and also that “new telescopic observations very likely will lead to re-assignment to Level 0”.

Level 0 is code for “don’t worry about it at all”. At the moment, though, 2023 DW is at level 1. (The scale goes from 0 to 10)

The Torino Scale, adopted by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 1999, is a tool for categorising potential Earth impact events. More extraordinary events are indicated by a higher Torino Scale value.

Know The Asteroid

2023 DW was discovered on 26 February 2023 by Alain Maury and Georges Attard as part of an asteroid discovery programme in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

  • The asteroid’s average estimated diameter is 49.29 metres. For a size comparison, the Saint Thiruvalluvar statue in Kanyakumari is about 41 metres tall.

  • It is currently at a distance of about 0.12 AU from Earth.

  • The asteroid’s current velocity relative to the Sun is 24.63 km/s.

  • It takes 271 days to go around the Sun once.

Its next close approach to Earth in its solar orbit is on 26 March 2026. On that occasion, it will be at a distance of 0.15495 AU, or 23,180,321 km, from the blue planet.

2023 DW’s size puts it in the category of asteroid thought to have been behind the Tunguska event of 1908. That asteroid would have been about 50-60 metres in diameter.

At about 7.14 am on 30 June 1908, an enormous explosion occurred at an altitude of 5-10 km, charring over 100 square kilometres of pine forest near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in central Siberia, Russia. This came to be known as the Tunguska event.

The energy release at the time was estimated to have been so explosive that it was a thousand times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on 6 August 1945.

Planetary Protection

More than a hundred years after the Tunguska event, humans are developing the technological muscle to deflect an asteroid that poses danger to Earth.

NASA has even smacked an asteroid deliberately with a spacecraft to test out if a potentially life-threatening asteroid in the future could be moved off course.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft took off on 24 November 2021, on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base.

Its target was the asteroid Dimorphos, which is pretty big, at about the size of a football stadium.

This mission was to mark the world’s first demonstration of planetary defence technology. It was an attempt to move an asteroid in space. (In defence of this poor asteroid, it wasn’t on course to strike us, unlike 2023 DW at the moment.)

The spacecraft-asteroid collision occurred, just as planned, on 26 September 2022, after a 10-month journey. The smash left a trail of debris stretching thousands of kilometres.

The results came in on 11 October — the smack caused a definite change in the 160-metre-wide asteroid’s orbit.

The asteroid’s orbit was shortened by 33 minutes, with a margin of uncertainty at plus or minus 2 minutes.

So, whether or not 2023 DW, or any other asteroids, will strike Earth, Earthlings are proactive in planetary defence.

Karan Kamble writes on science and technology. He occasionally wears the hat of a video anchor for Swarajya's online video programmes.

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