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An asteroid roughly the width of a football field will pass close enough to Earth this year to warrant the attention of the European Space Agency (ESA), though the space rock’s actual threat to the planet is minimal.
The asteroid, known as 2006 QV89, is one of 870 objects on the ESA’s risk list, which tracks “all objects for which a non-zero impact probability has been detected.” The asteroid is ranked fourth on the current risk list, but it is the only object in the top 10 with a chance of impacting Earth this year.
The ESA’s risk list organizes near-Earth objects by their Palermo scale rating, which measures potential impact risks. 2006 QV89’s value is -3.63. According to the Center for Near Earth Object Studies; values on the scale “less than -2 reflect events for which there are no likely consequences.”
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The asteroid is about 131 feet in diameter, making it about 30 feet shorter than the width of a football field. According to the ESA’s impact table, 2006 QV89 has a .014 percent chance of impacting Earth on September 9.
NASA defines Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) as asteroids that will get within 120.8 million miles of Earth.
2006 QV89 was first observed by the Catalina Sky Observatory in Arizona in 2006. This isn’t the first time it has passed in near proximity to the planet – it had two close approaches in the 1950s, then one in the 60s, another in the 70s and two more in the 80s.
There were two more close approaches by 2006 QV89 in 2003 and in 2006. According to the ESA, after this year, it’s set for another close approach in 2032.
It’s expected to pass 4.26 million miles away from Earth during its next close approach in September. For comparison, Earth’s moon is an average of 238,900 miles away. In May, the asteroid 1999 KW4 — actually a system with two space rocks — passed about 3 million miles away from Earth.
In June 2018, NASA released its National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan in an effort to improve the country’s ability to address the hazards of near-Earth objects (NEOs) by, “leveraging and enhancing existing national and international assets and adding important capabilities across government.”
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That same report detailed the threat of even small NEOs, such as one in 2013 that created an explosion near Chelyabinsk, Russia, and injured more than 1,100 people. That meteor was only the size of a bus.
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