Close Encounter With Earth Changes Asteroid's Orbit

2023 BU came 'extraordinarily close' to our planet
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 26, 2023 2:00 AM CST
Updated Jan 27, 2023 3:54 AM CST
Thursday Night Will Bring One of Closest-Ever Asteroid Encounters
This diagram made available by NASA shows the estimated trajectory of asteroid 2023 BU, in red, affected by the earth's gravity, the orbit of geosynchronous satellites, in green, and the orbit of the moon, in light gray.   (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
UPDATE Jan 27, 2023 3:54 AM CST

The asteroid 2023 BU came very close to Earth Thursday evening, coming 10 times closer than many satellites. At its closest, at 7:27pm Eastern, it was 2,200 miles over the southern tip of South America, which "counts as a close shave," the BBC reports. But even if there had been a direct hit, it was small enough to have disintegrated in the atmosphere. NASA said the close encounter with Earth's gravity has permanently changed the asteroid's orbit. "Before encountering Earth, the asteroid's orbit around the Sun was roughly circular, approximating Earth's orbit, taking 359 days to complete its orbit about the Sun," the agency said. Now, "the asteroid's orbit will be more elongated, moving it out to about halfway between Earth's and Mars' orbits at its furthest point from the Sun. The asteroid will then complete one orbit every 425 days."

Jan 26, 2023 2:00 AM CST

An asteroid the size of a delivery truck will whip past Earth on Thursday night, one of the closest such encounters ever recorded, the AP reports. NASA insists it will be a near miss with no chance of the asteroid hitting Earth. NASA said Wednesday that this newly discovered asteroid will zoom 2,200 miles above the southern tip of South America. That's 10 times closer than the bevy of communication satellites circling overhead. The closest approach will occur at 7:27pm Eastern time.

Even if the space rock came a lot closer, scientists said most of it would burn up in the atmosphere, with some of the bigger pieces possibly falling as meteorites. NASA's impact hazard assessment system, called Scout, quickly ruled out a strike, said its developer, Davide Farnocchia, an engineer at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "But despite the very few observations, it was nonetheless able to predict that the asteroid would make an extraordinarily close approach with Earth,” Farnocchia said in a statement. “In fact, this is one of the closest approaches by a known near-Earth object ever recorded.”

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Discovered Saturday, the asteroid known as 2023 BU is believed to be between 11 feet and 28 feet across. It was first spotted by the same amateur astronomer in Crimea, Gennady Borisov, who discovered an interstellar comet in 2019. Within a few days, dozens of observations were made by astronomers around the world, allowing them to refine the asteroid's orbit. The asteroid's path drastically will be altered by Earth's gravity once it zips by. Instead of circling the sun every 359 days, it will move into an oval orbit lasting 425 days, according to NASA.

(More asteroid stories.)

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