Hayabusa-2: Samples from asteroid Ryugu return to Earth
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Asteroid 2021 BS3 is estimated to be as large as 360ft (110m) across – making the space rock approximately the same size as London’s iconic London Eye and longer than a football field. NASA says the asteroid will be at its closest to Earth at precisely 1.58pm GMT (5.58am PT) on Wednesday.
But despite this event technically being labelled as a “close approach”, the asteroid will be 0.04423 Astronomical Units (AU) away from Earth.
This is the equivalent to the space rock being 40 percent of the average distance between our planet and the Sun – approximately 4,111,435 miles away.
Although such an unfathomable distance makes this asteroid anything but “close” to Earth, this is technically true when considering the incomprehensible scale of the cosmos.
However, despite these imposing proportions, there is nothing to fear as the agency’s Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) data reveals the ancient debris will safely sail past our world.
In addition to the asteroid’s size and distance, NASA experts are also impressively able to provide an accurate sense of its speed.
Using their cutting-edge technology, the space agency confirms the body to be travelling at 10.37 km/s or 23,197mph.
To put this into perspective, this asteroid is so fast, it is shooting through space ten times faster than a bullet fired from a gun.
But such speeds are actually the norm in the extreme environment of space.
Here a lack of friction, combined with seemingly-impossible celestial forces can accelerate objects like asteroids to obscene speeds.
2021 BS3’s imminent arrival in Earth’s cosmic neighbourhood has coincided with the publication of research identifying the asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs.
Harvard University asteroid experts think they now understand how such a large chunk of extraterrestrial space rock responsible for the Chicxulub crater killed the giant reptiles.
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Harvard undergraduate student Amir Siraj said: “The solar system acts as a kind of pinball machine.
“Jupiter, the most massive planet, kicks incoming long-period comets into orbits that bring them very close to the sun.”
Long-period comets originate from a region of the solar system called the Oort cloud.
Mr Siraj added: “In a sun-grazing event, the portion of the comet closer to the sun feels a stronger gravitational pull than the part that is further, resulting in a tidal force across the object.
“You can get what’s called a tidal disruption event, in which a large comet breaks up into many smaller pieces.
“And crucially, on the journey back to the Oort cloud, there’s an enhanced probability that one of these fragments hit the Earth.”
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