An asteroid the size of around 18 walruses is set to pass by the Earth on Sunday, May 21, according to NASA's asteroid tracker.
The asteroid in question has been dubbed 2023 JK, according to the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). But despite the initials, it is no joke – nor is it related to the author behind the Harry Potter series.
The asteroid's passing also coincides with a date once assumed by some Christians to be the day when the world would end.
How big is the asteroid coming toward Earth in 2023?
Asteroid 2023 JK is estimated by NASA to be as much as 64 meters in diameter.
To put that size in a more Earthy, mammalian metric, consider the walrus, one of the most important and impactful species that live in the arctic.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, an adult male Pacific walrus – there are only two subspecies – can grow to as much as 3.6 meters. This means that asteroid 2023 JK's diameter is as much as almost 18 adult male Pacific walruses, laying in a row flat on their fat blubbery bellies, heads and tusks tucked down.
Walruses are also famously quite hefty, being packed with blubber to help survive the cold climate and preserve heat. Because of this, they can weigh between 1,500 to 2,000 kilograms. Suffice to say, that's a lot of weight, especially for 18 of them. But most likely, asteroid 2023 JK is going to be even heavier.
What other asteroids are set to pass by soon?
Asteroid 2023 JK is the only one set to pass on May 21, but some others were set to pass in the preceding days.
Here's a look at a couple of the space rocks who flew by on May 20, along with their own unique metrics:
- Asteroid 2023 JL2, estimated diameter of 71 meters, or around 15 2022 Honda Civic cars
- Asteroid 2023 HG11, estimated diameter of 12 meters, or around three bottlenose dolphins
Is an asteroid going to hit the Earth in 2023?
Yes. That's not fearmongering, because it has already happened.
Back in February, asteroid 2023 CX1, the size of two Super Bowl trophies, impacted the Earth, specifically near Normandy in France.
Aside from that, several smaller objects – meteors – have already hit the Earth, too. One even happened in Israel, exploding in the northeast of the country back in April. Several months before that, a meteor the size of a Pembroke Welsh corgi hit Texas.
None of these caused any damage, because these small meteor and asteroid impacts, when they do happen, usually don't cause any harm apart from a loud explosion.
There is a good reason for that: They were so small that they ended up exploding in the atmosphere and burning up, with any remnants being too small to cause harm.
This isn't always guaranteed to be the case, though. One meteor landed in New Jersey recently and broke through someone's roof and ceiling.
In addition, this won't be the case for other larger asteroids. And at 64 meters, asteroid 2023 JK could possibly survive the trip through the atmosphere and cause a bit of damage, though nothing apocalyptic.
That's an interesting point to note, too, because the date this asteroid is set to pass, May 21, is infamous for being the date US Christian radio host Harold Camping predicted for the rapture and the end of the world.
This prediction actually gained quite ab it of traction among his followers in the US and abroad. However, nothing actually happened.
Nothing will happen this time, either, because asteroid 2023 JK isn't going to hit us. NASA CNEOS says it will pass around 1.65 million kilometers away from the Earth. This is a bit close, enough for NASA to give it a rarity rating, but not closer than the Moon, which orbits the Earth at around 384,000 kilometers.
Do we have any way to stop an asteroid from hitting the Earth?
Yes. Especially if we have enough time.
Scientists at NASA and other institutions around the world, including some here in Israel, have been working hard to find ways to protect the Earth from an asteroid impact.
While a number of initiatives have been discussed, the one with the most support is NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission, which was successfully tested by crashing into the faraway asteroid Dimorphous, thus altering its orbit.
So humanity is at no risk of being killed by asteroids any time soon.
However, walruses aren't as safe. The large tusked seals live exclusively in the Arctic and are under severe threat from climate change.
Currently, walruses are classified as a vulnerable species and considering their incredibly vital position in the Arctic ecosystem, the damage that could be caused by the loss of these large and adorable mammals is severe.
But can space help save walruses? Surprisingly, yes. Back in 2022, the World Wildlife Fund and British Antarctic Survey have put together a five-year initiative where the public can look through thousands of satellite images to spot walruses as part of the first ever effort to carry out a full population census for these animals.
And the more we know about their population and distribution, the better we can try to help them.