Asteroid 2.3 times the size of dinosaur heading for Earth - NASA

Asteroid 2022 PW may be small, but it will fly dangerously close to the Earth, relatively close to the Moon's distance to the planet.

An asteroid is seen orbiting around Earth in this artistic rendering. (photo credit: PIXABAY)
An asteroid is seen orbiting around Earth in this artistic rendering.
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

An asteroid almost two-and-a-half times the size of a dinosaur is set to have a close flyby with the Earth on Tuesday, according to NASA's asteroid tracker.

Which asteroid is coming towards Earth?

The asteroid in question has been designated 2022 PW and is currently heading in our direction. 

The asteroid in question will pass by on August 16, 2022, as noted by the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), specifically at the speed of 7.47 kilometers per second, which equates to 26,892 kilometers per hour. It also is roughly equal to nearly 22 times the speed of sound.

What is especially noteworthy about this asteroid heading near Earth, however, is the distance.

Asteroid illustrative (credit: Wikimedia Commons)Asteroid illustrative (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

According to NASA's CNEOS, the asteroid 2022 PW is set to pass the Earth at a distance of approximately 529,000 kilometers.

To put that in perspective, the Moon on average orbits the Earth at a distance of around 384,000 kilometers. 

This means that asteroid 2022 PW will be farther from the Earth than the Moon, but only slightly so. It will still be very close - especially on a cosmic scale.

How big is the asteroid coming towards Earth in 2022?

Luckily, not that big. 

According to NASA's CNEOS, asteroid 2022 PW has an estimated diameter that could be as wide as 51 meters.

For context, the long-necked sauropod dinosaur known as Brachiosaurus is thought by scientists to have been as long as 22 meters, which is around 2.3 times smaller.

Will an asteroid hit Earth in 2022?

If it does, it won't be this one. And even if this asteroid impact did happen, it wouldn't be too bad, relatively speaking.

It is true that asteroids are one of the most dangerous possible natural disasters that could occur, as the sheer level of destruction they can bring is nigh unparalleled and humanity has yet to develop a fully adequate means of defense against them.

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 Apophis asteroid – 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 2022 – could trigger a worldwide cataclysm.

But at this size, asteroid 2022 PW will likely not cause much damage if it impacts. It will likely cause a large and loud explosion upon atmospheric entry, but any actual damage would be minimal, at best.

In other words, while asteroid 2022 PW may be measured in terms of dinosaurs, it won't be anywhere near as massive as the asteroid that actually managed to kill all of the dinosaurs.

 The six mile wide asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago hits the Earth in this artistic illustration. (credit: Alkuron Williams/Flickr) The six mile wide asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago hits the Earth in this artistic illustration. (credit: Alkuron Williams/Flickr)

But as for if an asteroid will impact the Earth in 2022, the answer is undoubtedly yes. Or rather, yes, it already happened.

In mid-March, the small asteroid 2022 EB5, which was around half the size of a giraffe, actually hit the Earth - though it caused no damage.

When is the next asteroid predicted to hit the Earth?

Not for a long time, at the very least.

Luckily for us, 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.

 This mosaic of the asteroid Bennu was created using observations made by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft that was in close proximity to the asteroid for over two years. (credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona) This mosaic of the asteroid Bennu was created using observations made by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft that was in close proximity to the asteroid for over two years. (credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)
What is the next asteroid to hit Earth?

We don't know for sure, but there are some candidates.

Currently, one of the most dangerous asteroids for Earth is the asteroid Bennu, a massive 500 meter-wide behemoth of an asteroid. If this asteroid impacted the Earth, the result would be catastrophic - but as far as NASA is aware, this won't be for a long time, if ever.

NASA's DART Mission heads for an asteroid, from behind the NEXT–C ion engine (illustrative). (credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL)NASA's DART Mission heads for an asteroid, from behind the NEXT–C ion engine (illustrative). (credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL)
Do we have any way to stop an asteroid from hitting the Earth?

Maybe.

The field of planetary defense is specifically organized to do things like that, and scientists at NASA and across the world are hard at work trying to keep the Earth safe from extraterrestrial threats - with the term extraterrestrial meaning anything that isn't on Earth, like an asteroid, and not just referring to alien life.

Currently, the most promising of these efforts is NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, which will see a small specially-designed spacecraft slam into an asteroid to see if it can possibly alter its orbit ever so slightly. But time will tell if this will prove effective.