A huge double asteroid is streaking toward Earth, but scientists say it will pass by with plenty of room to spare.
The asteroid, known as 1999 KW4, will make its closest approach to our planet on Saturday, but it’s important to note that that distance means something different to space folks, who work on a galactic scale.
The European Space Agency says it will be 3,219,961 miles (5,182,024 km) away — more than 13 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
It’s called a bianary system, because there are two asteroids that are gravitationally bound together. The larger one is just under a mile in diameter and its companion asteroid “moon” is about a third of that size.
It was first discovered in 1999 by scientists with the LINEAR project in New Mexico.
📸#Operations image of the week: Learning from close encounters
On Saturday, 2 gravitationally bound asteroids will make their closest Earth approach, providing useful insights for the upcoming #HeraMission to test #AsteroidDeflection
More: https://t.co/O8BfJjzMyj#GravityRules🕳️ pic.twitter.com/pmBmutOneA
— ESA Operations (@esaoperations) May 23, 2019
The ESA tweeted an animation showing 1999 KW4 that was shot on May 9 by a 0.6-metre telescope on the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean.
It describe the asteroid as “the grey blob at the centre of this animation.”
Scientists will use dozens of telescopes around the world to collect as much data as they can as the asteroid passes.
It won’t be visible to the naked eye, but EarthSky.org says amateur astronomers may be able to see it if they use a telescope that’s 8″ in diameter or larger. It will look like a slow-moving star.
The system will come even closer to the Earth (but still pretty far away) the next time it swings by, but that won’t happen until May 2036.