Our solar system is full of big space rocks travelling around the Sun and occasionally changing paths due to the gravitational pull of planets. These space rocks, known as asteroids, rarely hit Earth, but when they do, they bring catastrophe. That’s why even when an asteroid bigger than 150 metres in diameter passes close to the Earth, NASA flags it as a potentially hazardous object and monitors it regularly. According to the space agency’s database of near-Earth objects, five potentially hazardous massive asteroids, ranging from 84 metres to 1.3 kilometres are expected to fly by Earth this month.
163899 (2003 SD220)
Expected to zoom past Earth on December 17, this massive asteroid is about 769-816 metres in diameter, which is nearly as big as the world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa. The asteroid will pass by Earth at a distance of 5.4 million kilometres, about 1.3 times closer than what is specified by NASA as a potentially hazardous range. If 163899 hits Earth, it could cause catastrophe and significant damage wherever it collides.
4660 Nereus (1982 DB)
Named after a shapeshifted Greek god Nereus, the asteroid is 325-335 metres in size, which is as big as Eiffel Tower. Nereus is likely to pass by Earth on December 11 at its closest distance of 3.8 million kilometres, impregnating the safe range zone. If Nereus hits Earth, it is most likely to cause local damage to the impact area.
The third biggest asteroid to zoom past Earth this month is 2017 AE3, which is 120-260 metres in size. The asteroid could be bigger than the statue of unity and is expected to pass by Earth on December 29. The closest the asteroid is likely to come to Earth is 3.1 million kilometres, clearly infiltrating the prescribed safe range.
The 2016 TR54 asteroid, which is likely to be 100 to 230 metres in diameter, is expected to fly past Earth on December 24. The asteroid will reach its closest approach towards our planet at a distance of 6.4 million kilometres.
The smallest potentially hazardous asteroid to pass by Earth this month is 2018 AH, which is likely to be 84 to 190 metres in size, which could be comparable to the Statue of Unity and bigger than the Taj Mahal. The space rock is expected to zoom past Earth on December 27 at a distance of 8.9 million kilometres from Earth.
Last month, NASA launched a spacecraft under its Double Asteroid Redirection Test to test its capabilities to change the curse of a potentially hazardous asteroid. If the mission succeeds, it can help NASA build a solid planetary defence system.