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Home / Science / A massive "potentially dangerous" asteroid will pass Earth tonight, but we'll be fine

A massive "potentially dangerous" asteroid will pass Earth tonight, but we'll be fine



An asteroid that can be up to 500 feet wide is earmarked for a date with Earth tonight. The rock called Asteroid 2016 NF23 is one of the larger near-Earth objects in recent memory, but fortunately NASA believes the rock will maintain a long-distance relationship with our planet, rather than a near-personal one.

The asteroid is classified by NASA as "potentially dangerous," as it has a distance of about three million kilometers. That may sound like a huge gap, but in terms of the solar system, it's actually a pretty short distance. In fact, any significant space rock that makes it within about 4.5 million miles of our planet is considered potentially dangerous, and in 2016 NF23 is well within that criterion.

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The good news about all this is that the asteroid is on a pretty clear course to miss the earth with a wide margin. The stone will only have about 13 lunar distances from our planet – that's the distance from the moon to the earth – and that's enough of a buffer zone that we do not really have to worry about. Other objects have come much closer in the recent past, even within a lunar distance.

Well, to be clear: 2016 NF23 will not hit us … but what if it was somehow? It goes without saying that any major asteroid impact would be bad news, but the size of 2016 NF23 would prevent it from causing too much damage.

If the true size of the asteroid is at the upper end of current estimates, it would be 525 feet in diameter. That would be enough to harm a city, and the victims would be numerous, but far from being a true "planet killer."

The rock that held onto the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico – the famous Chicxulub crater and triggering a mass extinction event that wiped out most dinosaurs – is estimated to be between 6.2 and 9.3 miles in diameter. 2016 NF23 does not hold a candle. Of course, you would not want it to end up in your house, but humanity would go on, even if it did.

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