Talk about a close call. An asteroid, designated 2014RC, was discovered just 5 days ago by the Catalina Sky Survey in Tuscan, Arizona. The results were reported to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachussets. The discovery came with only a slight bit of alarm, as the orbital elements quickly revealed that the small asteroid would pass safely away from the earth. At the time of its closest approach, the asteroid will be over New Zealand at around 2:18pm Eastern time on Sunday.
The reflected light from the asteroid suggests it is about 60 feet in size — so a small asteroid at that. Still, an impact from such an object could cause significant impacts on our planet. At its closet point, the asteroid will pass approximately 1/10 of the distance from the Earth’s center to the moon, or about 25,000 miles. That asteroid’s magnitude will only reach 11.5, making it virtually unobservable to the unaided eye.
Astronomers with telescopes may be able to catch a glimpse of the asteroid under the right conditions. Such a close approach means the asteroid will pass near, but not within, the geosynchronous ring. This ring is the extent of communications between the earth and satellites orbiting our planet, which is about 22,000 miles above the planets surface (not it’s center).
While serving as an opportunity for astronomers to observe a close-by asteroid, 2014RC also brings us a reminder that we are at the mercy of space and the objects within it. Such a discovery at 5 days warning could have brought much different results if the orbit of the asteroid was only slightly different.