Giant asteroid and its moon to come close to Earth this weekend

Pablo Tucker
May 26, 2019

"The secondary [smaller space rock] is about 500m across and the two asteroids orbit each other every 17.5 hours at a distance of about 1.6 miles". NASA's asteroid trackers are braced for the space rock to shoot past our home planet around 12.05am United Kingdom time in the wee hours of Sunday, May 26.

A walnut-shaped asteroid almost a mile wide and with a moon of its own is expected to pass by Earth this weekend, traveling at 48,000 miles per hour.

The main asteroid is about a mile wide, and looks a bit like a spinning top thanks to a ridge that wraps around the rock's equator. "In fact, there are almost 2,000 "PHA's" (Potentially Hazardous Asteroids) that have a potential of colliding with Earth, and 1999 KW4 is one of them".

For those looking to catch some views, EarthSky reports that the asteroid traveling more than 48,000 miles per hour should be visible for those with a telescope that is at least 8 inches in diameter.

Another pass this close isn't expected until 2036, according to the ESA.

While 1999 KW4 is classified as a "Potentially Hazardous Asteroid" by the Minor Planet Center, it should clear Earth at a very safe distance of 3,219,955 miles - more than 13 times the distance from the Earth to the moon.

During this timeframe, the asteroid often crosses paths with the Earth's own obit of the Sun.

It'll be visible until May 27.

And the asteroid's next close flybys falls on May 26, 2020, and May 31, 2021.

"Most of us will not be able to see 1999 KW4 as it streaks past us on Saturday evening", Rao says. Even at its brightest, however, it will be around 12th magnitude, which is about 250 times fainter than the faintest star that can be seen with the naked eye. This will be the closest that a binary system has ever approached Earth.

In fact, this is the fourth approach the binary asteroids have made toward Earth since they were discovered in 1999, and not the closest.

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