‘Potentially hazardous’ asteroid will come close to Earth

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Jim Todd from OMSI answers the question: Will we be able to see the asteroid?

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A “potentially hazardous” asteroid will come in close contact with Earth Tuesday – and by close contact, scientists mean about 1.2 million miles. 

The asteroid known as 7482 (1994 PC1) has a length that’s more than twice the height of the Empire State Building and will come closest to Earth on Jan. 18. The asteroid’s distance from the Earth, 1.2 million miles, is roughly six times the distance between the Earth and the moon. 

Jim Todd, director of space science education at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, said that distance is far enough away that this isn’t considered a near miss, but it is getting a lot of attention due to its size. 

“People will ask, ‘Are you sure, Jim, that it’s not going to hit us?’ I don’t think we have to worry about this one. But it’s good that they’re tracking. They’re monitoring the sky,” he said.

According to NASA, no known asteroid larger than 140 meters has a significant chance of hitting earth within the next 100 years. However, to date, NASA predicts only 40 percent of those asteroids have been found. Since 2015, observers have discovered more than 1,500 near-Earth objects each year, but NASA says more needs to be done to detect them

Todd agreed and said some of these undetected objects could pose threats. 

“Should we worry? Yes. We’re getting better. We’re getting more radar scanning the sky. There’s a lot of movements to try to get more detection of these kinds of objects heading our way. This is not going to be the first time that we’re going to see a large asteroid’s close flyby,” he said. 

Asteroid 7482 (1994 PC1) is approximately 3,280 feet across and is considered a stony asteroid. Todd said it’s very dense, very large and very old. 

Unfortunately, Todd said the asteroid won’t be visible to the naked eye. He said the best time to see it will be from 6:45 p.m. on Jan. 18 to 1:50 a.m. on Jan. 19. He said it will pass directly under Uranus in the night sky. He said many people might think they can see the asteroid, but they’ll likely be confusing it with Uranus, which is visible to the naked eye. 

In order to spot the asteroid, he said people will need at least a 6-inch telescope. Another way to capture it could be with a camera’s long exposure. He said the asteroid would normally be captured on the Goldstone Solar System Radar in California, but it’s currently down for service. 

He said the visibility of the asteroid will also depend on the weather in the Pacific Northwest on Jan. 18. OMSI will not be streaming the asteroid going across the night sky. 

Todd said this large asteroid is a great way to create awareness about potentially hazardous asteroids, but reminds everyone that these things are not uncommon. On Thursday, Jan. 13, for example, there were already 2,249 potentially hazardous asteroids detected near Earth by the time Todd spoke to KOIN 6 News. 

The same asteroid is expected to pass by earth again on July 3, 2022, although it won’t come nearly as close. Its next passing should be at a distance of more than 41 million miles. 

NASA has been monitoring asteroid 7482 (1994 PC1) since it was discovered in August 1994 and it is classified as an Apollo asteroid because its orbit crosses the path of Earth.  

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