An asteroid over twice the size of an American football field only recently discovered is heading towards Earth later this week, according to NASA's asteroid tracker, though it almost certainly isn't going to hit.
Designated 2022 OE2, this asteroid is approximately 224 meters wide - within an estimated range of 170-380 meters put forward by the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). For comparison, an American football field as specified by NFL regulations is just under 110 meters, making this over twice the size.
The asteroid itself is set to fly past Earth Wednesday, August 4, at a speed of 32.16 kilometers per second (or 115,776 kilometers per hour). However, it isn't going to hit us, with NASA's calculations saying it would safely pass by the Earth at a distance of over 5 million kilometers.
For greater context, the Moon orbits the Earth at a distance of roughly 384,000 kilometers, so this isn't even close to that.
The new kid on the block
What stands out more about 2022 OE2 than the many other asteroids that pass by the Earth is that this one was only just discovered on July 26.
There are thought to be over a million asteroids in the solar system, with over 20,000 of them being classified as near-Earth objects (NEOs) for being so close to Earth.
These often vary in size, with the larger ones often being easier to spot since the bigger the asteroid, the more light it will reflect. But that isn't the case all the times, since not all asteroids are necessarily made of the same things and different materials can reflect light differently.
This is fascinating, since asteroids can often contain a whole host of materials that can shed light on the evolution of the solar system.
However, scientific potential aside, it's for the best that 2022 OE2 won't come too close to the Earth.
Don't Look Up: Armageddon through Deep Impact
An asteroid impact is one of the most dangerous possible natural disasters that could occur.
According to research from the Davidson Institute of Science, the educational arm of Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science, an asteroid over 140 meters in diameter would release an amount of energy at least a thousand times greater than that released by the first atomic bomb if it impacted Earth.
Something even larger – over 300 meters wide like the asteroid Apophis or the maximum estimate for 2022 OE2 provided by CNEOS – could destroy an entire continent. An asteroid over a kilometer in width – like asteroid 138971 (2001 CB21), which flew past the Earth in early March – could trigger a worldwide cataclysm.
In other words, if 2022 OE2 were to actually hit the Earth, the results wouldn't be pleasant.
But luckily, we're safe from anything for now. In fact, NASA has declared the Earth free of risk of any catastrophic asteroid impacts for the next century. Other, smaller non-catastrophic asteroid impacts can still occur, however. In fact, one did so in mid-March when asteroid 2022 EB5 hit the planet.
But even so, scientists have continued to advance methods of asteroid detection and defense, including NASA's groundbreaking Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission that is set to test the possibility of asteroid deflection. How effective it would be would only be revealed this coming September, when DART is set to hit its target.