An asteroid of potentially dangerous capabilities is expected to pass by our planet on Christmas Eve.
The 1.5-miles wide mega space rock known as 2003 SD220 is on a NASA list of “high priority” asteroids for close observation because of the potential threat to the planet, and has been imaged by them as they keep a close eye on it ahead of its arrival.
NASA and other astronomers have a list of 17 high-priority near-Earth asteroids which have been or will be monitored by radar as they get close to the planet in 2015.
A smaller group of six, also including 2003 SD220, are also considered potentially hazardous to Earth due to their sizes and orbits.
This is because they could be darker than initially thought and could therefore have some of their bulk obscured by the darkness of space.
News of the close pass comes after it was reported yesterday that conspiracy theories believe a mysterious planet called Planet X or Nibiru, said to be four times the size of Jupiter will pass the Earth this month, but wipe out life due to its immense gravitational force ripping up continents and showering us with comets.
There is no science to back any of that up. But news of 2003 SD220’s approach is likely to fuel this conspiracy.
A team made up of NASA and staff from the Arecibo observatory in Peurto Rico are preparing to carry out specialist radar observations of 2003 SD220 as it nears us from mid December.
“Over the long term, our observations will help answer fundamental questions regarding the origin of the diversity in asteroid morphologies, the importance of spin-up mechanisms and collisional influences, the interior structure and thermal properties of asteroids, and the variety of dynamical states.”
Although 2003 SD220 is expected to pass at a cosmically close 6.7 million miles, one of the biggest concerns with these largely unknown asteroids is the potential for Yarkovsky drift.
This is a radiative effect that subtly changes the orbits of asteroids, which could potentially make them come closer or even hit Earth.
In 2018 2003 SD220 will make another close pass.
“The reason they can become hazardous is that their trajectory can variate due to gravitational fields from Planets or Stars, or other objects.”
So there are genuine scientific concerns about this asteroid.
However, NASA says “the chance of a potentially hazardous event due to these objects is about once in 10,000 years.”
Following widespread, and inaccurate conspiracy theories that a major asteroid would hit Earth this September, NASA put out a statement saying it knows of no large asteroid that is on collision course with us for several hundred years.