Three asteroids, including one larger than the Washington Monument, are set to fly safely past Earth on Christmas Day, according to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies.
The largest space rock, known as the asteroid 501647 (2014 SD224), is expected to come within 1.9 million miles of Earth and is thought to have a diameter as large as 689 feet. At its size and distance, it is considered a “potentially dangerous” Near-Earth Object (NEO), but it poses no threat to the planet when it zips later this week.
“Potentially dangerous” NEOs are defined as space objects that come within 0.05 astronomical units and measure more than 460 feet in diameter, NASA explained. According to a 2018 report by Planetary.org, there are more than 18,000 NEOs.
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This asteroid last made a close approach to Earth on January 26, 2020 and will not do so again until December 18, 2021, NASA added.
In addition to the asteroid 501647 (2014 SD224), two other asteroids will probably fly past Earth the first day of Christmas – 2020 XY and 2020 YM1. Both are also considered NEOs and, like the asteroid 501647, pose no threat to Earth.
In 2018, NASA unveiled a 20-page plan that outlined the steps the United States should take to be better prepared for NEOs, such as asteroids and comets coming within 30 million miles of the planet.
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A recent study showed that Americans prefer a space program that focuses on potential asteroid effects rather than sending humans back to the moon or to Mars.
In April 2019, NASA awarded a $ 69 million contract to SpaceX, the space research firm led by Elon Musk, to help it with asteroid bending through its DART mission.
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NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in April 2019 that an asteroid strike is not something to be taken lightly and is perhaps Earth’s biggest threat.