Skyscraper-sized asteroids will fly past the Earth today and tomorrow

Don't forget to look up this weekend.
Ameya Paleja
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According to NASA's Asteroid Watch, two massive asteroids the size of skyscrapers will zip past the Earth as you sit down and unwind this weekend.

Composed of rock, dust, and metallic minerals, asteroids mostly occupy the region between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, commonly known as the asteroid belt. However, some asteroids stray away from this orbit and are outside the orbit of Neptune, while some come closer to the Sun. At times, when traversing the orbit of the Earth, these asteroids come very close to the Earth and are classified as Near-Earth Objects (NEOs).

For an asteroid to be considered a NEO, it must come within 1.3 astronomical units (AU); or the distance between the Earth and the Sun must be at least 460 feet (140 m) to be considered a potentially hazardous object (PHO).

Are the asteroids potentially hazardous?

The first of the asteroids to zip past Earth is known as 2016 CZ31. It will fly by today at around 7 pm ET (2300 GMT) at speeds of 34,560 mph (55,618 kph), LiveScience said in a report. At 400 feet, the asteroid is just shy of being classified as a PHO but is still as big as a skyscraper you could come across in a major city.

CZ31 will fly past us at the distance of 1.7 million miles (2.8 million km) or roughly a little over seven times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

There are two other asteroids, 2022 OG1, and 2022 NU1, that are also expected to zip past the Earth today. However, they are relatively smaller and no bigger than an airplane.

Asteroid 2013 CU83, which will fly past Earth tomorrow or Saturday 30th July, is much larger than the CZ31, with 600 feet (183 m) in size. It will also fly past us at a distance of 4.3 million miles (6.9 million km).

The flyby is expected at around 7:37 pm ET (2337 GMT); the larger asteroid will also move relatively slower at the velocity of 13,153 mph (21,168 kph).

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Watching the skies for catastrophic threats

Although these asteroids are traveling at safe distance from the Earth, their orbits can change due if they come under the influence of gravity of other celestial bodies. While astronomers try to keep a tab on the orbits over the years, there can also be surprises that spring up.

Asteroids 2022 NE and 2022 NF were discovered only a week before they made their Earth flybys at a distance of 84,000 miles (135,000 km) and 55,000 miles (89,000 km) earlier this month. Although the sizes of the asteroids were rather small, and their impact on Earth would not have led to catastrophic damage, scientists have been working on ways to divert asteroids away from the Earth if they were ever to come straight for us.

In November last year, NASA launched the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid and notice the change in its trajectory. The experiment is expected to occur later this year.

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