If you’ve seen movies like Deep Impact and Armageddon about gigantic asteroids hitting earth then you’ll be familiar with this story, except this one is true, but no, it won’t hit the earth. “The Rock,” an asteroid nicknamed after professional wrestler Dwayne Johnson because of its massive size is set to make it closest pass to Earth in 400 years this week. This asteroid will not come this close to Earth again for at least the next 500 years. The asteroid, which is travelling through space at about 33 meters per second, or around 73 miles per hour, and is estimated to be between 650 meters and 1.4 kilometers in length. It will make its closest approach to Earth in 400 years on April 19 (Wednesday), at a distance of 1.1 million miles.
This is around 4.6 times the distance from Earth to the moon. Astronomers first learned about Asteroid 2014 JO25, its official name, some three years ago, when it was observed by the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona. After its official name, it was given the nickname “The Rock.” Little is known about its physical properties, but NASA claims its surface is about twice as reflective as that of the moon, so this means that it will be visible from Earth. Although there is no possibility of the asteroid colliding with our planet, this will be a very close approach for an asteroid of this size.
Small asteroids always pass within this distance of Earth several times each week, but this upcoming close approach is the closest by any known asteroid of this size, or larger, in 13 years.
In September 2004, Asteroid Toutatis, a 3.1-mile asteroid, approached within about four lunar distances. The next known encounter of an asteroid of comparable size will happen in 2027 when the half-mile-wide asteroid 1999 AN10 will fly by at one lunar distance, or around 236,000 miles.
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Robotic telescope service Slooh said that The Rock’s close approach was an “alarming reminder” of just how close these destructive chunks of space debris come to Earth on an almost daily basis. If an impact with earth would occur, even a 30 meter sized asteroid can cause significant damage to a major city. And with regards to “The Rock,” while not causing an extinction level event, an impact from an asteroid of that massive size could have a calamitous effect at the local and even regional level.
NASA has described the asteroid flyby as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity for professional astronomers and amateur stargazers. The asteroid should be visible with a small optical telescope for one or two nights before it moves out of range. And it’s obvious that astronomers plan to observe it with telescopes around the world to learn as much about it as possible. So expect packed houses at NASA telescopes and other terrestrial telescope sites.