A massive asteroid the size of 84 orcas is set to pass by the Earth on Monday, June 12, according to NASA's asteroid tracker.
The asteroid in question has been designated 488453 (1994 XD), according to the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Despite the initials, it has nothing to do with the XD emoticon some older users of SMS and instant messaging may recognize.
The asteroid is also one of three set to pass the Earth on Monday – and its arrival only heralds the passing of another, even larger one later this week.
A whale of an asteroid: How big is the asteroid coming toward Earth in 2023?
NASA estimates asteroid 488453 (1994 XD) as being as much as 830 meters in diameter.
Even on an astronomical level, that's huge as far as asteroids go – at least for the ones that pass Earth. Other asteroids in the asteroid belt, such as 16 Psyche and Ceres, are far larger.
To put this asteroid on a more down-to-Earth scale – or rather, down-to-water – consider the orca.
Also known as killer whales, orcas are one of the Earth's most iconic animals, as well as one of the most intelligent ones, being arguably second to just humans and widely recognized as the apex predators of the world's oceans.
According to SeaWorld, the largest orca on record measured at a titanic 9.8 meters. To put that in perspective, that is over three times the size of asteroid 2022 EB5, which impacted the Earth in 2022.
But as big as that orca was, this asteroid is much bigger. Estimating it conservatively, one can find that the diameter of asteroid 488453 (1994 XD) is the length of roughly 84 of the largest orca ever recorded.
What other asteroids are set to pass by soon?
As stated earlier, asteroid 488453 (1994 XD) is one of three that are set to pass the Earth on Monday, June 12. Here's a look at the other two who are coming on the same day, with their own metrics:
- Asteroid 2023 LA has an estimated diameter of 53 meters, which is just over 13 bottlenose dolphins.
- Asteroid 2023 LQ has an estimated diameter of 38 meters, which is almost as much as seven beluga whales.
And later this week, an even bigger asteroid is on its way: 2020 DB5, which is an astonishing 850 meters in diameter, which is around 34 fin whales.
Is an asteroid going to hit the Earth in 2023?
Lately, there has been considerable news about orcas attacking human ships. Some fear that this could be the start of their cetacean-based wrath on humanity.
But whether they present a danger or not, one thing is clear: Orcas present far more of a danger to us right now than asteroid 488453 (1994 XD) does.
According to NASA's calculations, 488453 (1994 XD) is set to pass over three million kilometers away from Earth – close on a cosmic scale, sure, but very far in more practical terms. The Moon, for context, orbits the Earth at an average distance of 384,000 kilometers.
Having said that, while asteroid 488453 (1994 XD) won't hit the Earth, others already have and it's possible more will continue to do so before the year is over.
For example, back in February, asteroid 2023 CX1 impacted near Normandy. However, this asteroid didn't result in any damage. This is because most small asteroids burn up in the atmosphere, and those that survive end up exploding in the air, making a loud noise but being otherwise harmless.
The same can't be said for asteroid 488453 (1994 XD), though. According to estimates from the Davidson Institute of Science, the educational arm of Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science, an asteroid that massive were to impact the Earth, the result would be, at best, an entire continent devastated. At worst, it could be a worldwide catastrophe severe of nigh-apocalyptic proportions.
Do we have any way to stop an asteroid from hitting the Earth?
Mankind may be on the precipice of war with Orcakind, but it is a battle humanity will likely win.
The battle of man versus asteroids, however, is a lot more challenging. But here, humanity has made major breakthroughs in the field of planetary defense.
The most promising is NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission, which sought to change an asteroid's orbit ever so slightly. This was accomplished by building a spacecraft, launching it over to the asteroid Dimorphous, and having the spacecraft punch it.
And it worked.
Scientists are now sure that, given enough warning in advance, we will be able to avert asteroid impacts.