So, There’s a New ‘Planet Killer’ Asteroid… But Don’t Panic

Yes, scientists did recently discover a new asteroid big enough to cause a lot of damage to Earth. But even though that news is having a big impact on people, there’s only a tiny possibility the asteroid itself will actually impact the planet. We first saw the “planet killer” headline on CNN and it certainly seems like the kind of bad news we’d expect in 2022. According to a press release, planet killers are asteroids larger than one kilometer in diameter. But there’s many reasons not to be too worried about this latest discovery.

Artist rendition of an asteroid with the glaring sun in the distance

There’s a Lot of Asteroids Out There

This might seem like yet another reason to panic, but it’s actually not. According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, more than 30,000 asteroids exist within the inner Solar System between the Sun and asteroid belt. They classify asteroids as “potentially hazardous” if they are 140 meters or more in diameter and come within 7.5 million kilometers of Earth’s orbit. The new research project actually discovered three new asteroids, two of which don’t cross Earth’s orbit.  

You can keep an eye on all of them for yourself thanks to NASA’s asteroid tracking site. It also lists the next five “close” approaches. An asteroid has a close approach to Earth nearly every day, sometimes multiple times per day. In fact, an asteroid passes closer to us than the Moon about every three days. So there’s no (new) reason to worry.  

A telescope on a hill with other mountains and a sunset

There’s Still a Lot We Don’t Know About the New Asteroid

Again, this may not sound like a calming thought, but it actually is. This research, which the team published in The Astronomical Journal, proves that a new way to look for asteroids is working. Asteroids that are mostly or entirely between Earth’s orbit and the Sun are hard to find because of the light from the Sun. There’s only two short 10-minute windows most days to find those small objects using the Dark Energy Camera on a telescope in Chile.   

This new “planet killer” asteroid was actually discovered back in January. The scientists then looked back through old data and could see it in 2017. It likely has a five year orbit and stays mostly on the other side of the Sun from Earth.

Seriously, Don’t Worry About a “Planet Killer” Asteroid

We admit that the threat of an asteroid strike is scary. And there seems like no shortage of video simulations on the internet, including this one comparing devastation based on an asteroid’s size. Apparently, we really like watching simulations of our planet being destroyed by an asteroid. Luckily, NASA has  successfully tested the DART system for bonking them off orbit. So even if one doesn’t come around for a few hundred years, supposedly we’re ready.  

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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