A “potentially dangerous asteroid” about half a mile long will sweep past Earth this weekend, giving eager astronomers a chance to watch it fly by.
The space rock, larger than most skyscrapers on Earth, will pass overhead in the early hours of Sunday, November 29.
Although the asteroid, called Asteroid 2000 WO107 for short, has been labeled a “potentially dangerous asteroid” due to its relatively short flight movements, no risk of impact has been detected and its orbit around Earth is known.
If it travels across the sky on Sunday, it will be about 11 times farther from Earth than the Moon and will travel at over 56,000 miles per hour.
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Astronomer Professor Brad Gibson of the University of Hull, director of the EA Milne Center for Astrophysics, said the asteroid will be one of the largest within a million miles of Earth this decade.
“While this may seem like a lot, it’s actually a very short distance when compared to the astonishingly large size of the solar system,” he said.
However, it does raise questions about how it would affect the Earth if a collision happened.
“Fortunately, it is nowhere near the size of the impactor that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, but it would be large enough to destroy an area roughly the size of Europe.”
To put its size in context, the asteroid that triggered the 1908 Tunguska event in Siberia – which flattened 830 square miles of forest – was just one-tenth the size of Asteroid 2000 WO107.
While the rock won’t be visible to the naked eye, amateur astronomers should be able to see it with only a relatively small 20-inch telescope or larger.
It looks like a slow-moving star and is expected to pass overhead at 5.08 a.m. on Sunday morning.
Professor Gibson said: “There is a profound excitement to be felt from asteroids, as every rocky fragment comes from the very beginning of our solar system.
“They are essentially pristine fossils from the creation of the solar system. If you break in one and examine the various chemical elements and isotopes in it, you get a snapshot of what our solar system looked like five billion years ago.”
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The University of Hull is lucky enough to own a variety of these special ‘moonstones’. As part of an immersive 3D experience designed to explore the history of the Moon, students will be able to see two fragments 2.5cm in diameter and have the chance to hold a real piece of the Moon .
In addition, they also bought a fragment of the Chelyabinsk Meteor, which in 2013 became the largest object to enter Earth’s atmosphere since the Tunguska event in 1908.