Asteroid Flying Towards Earth to Fly Close Past Today at 26x the Speed of Sound

The near-Earth asteroid is part of a large number of space objects that are regularly tracked by USA's space body, NASA.


A near-Earth asteroid fly-by is expected to take place today, according to data from the Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The asteroid, named 2022 QC7, has qualified as an NEO — by virtue of its closest point to the Sun being less than 1.3 astronomical unit (AU) or around 195 million kilometres from Earth.

Why is This Near-Earth Asteroid Hazardous?

While the distances mentioned in this report may sound massive, they are all relative to space — where a distance of 100,000 kilometres is deemed to be quite close. For reference, the moon — Earth’s closest solar system neighbour — orbits our planet at a distance of 384,400 kilometres from the Earth surface.

NEOs, to be sure, are not always considered hazardous. However, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), USA’s state-run space agency, maintains the CNEOS tracker in association with JPL to track NEOs that further sub-classify as Potentially Hazardous Objects (PHOs).

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These objects, 99% of which are always asteroids, are known as naturally occurring objects in space that are less than 0.05 AU — around 7.5 million kilometres — from Earth. This distance is approximately 20x that of the distance of the lunar orbit, which ensures that even when objects pass within 0.05AU, they do not always qualify as PHOs.

The near-Earth asteroid 2022 QC7, interestingly, is set to cross Earth at a distance of 0.03098 AU, or around 4.6 million kilometres. Its maximum diameter is around 36 metres, which is approximately half the width of a football pitch. While this may also seem to be a fairly large piece of rock, by space standards, asteroid 2022 QC7 is quite timid and mostly friendly in nature.

A more vicious entity could have been the asteroid 2022 RR1 — which is set to fly past Earth at an unspecified time tomorrow, September 7, at just 0.0049 AU, or 730,000 kilometres, from Earth. This would be less than 2x the distance between Earth and the moon, and this 26m rock would fly past at a speed of around 8.2 kilometres per second — approximately 24x the speed of sound.

You, however, should remain assured to know that these objects are still quite far away from making an impact on Earth, and through missions such as NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), various nations are building space defence systems to protect against a killer asteroid in the future.