An asteroid measuring around 200 feet across is set to zoom past the Earth in a “very close” encounter this weekend, and the astronomical event can be watched live online.
The space rock, known as 2023 DZ2, will make its close approach to our planet on Saturday. It will come within a minimum distance of around 108,000 miles just before 8 p.m. Coordinated Universal Time, or 4 p.m. ET, figures from NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) database show.
This means the asteroid will fly past us at slightly less than half the average distance between the Earth and the moon. The flyby will be so close that it will even be possible for stargazers to observe the asteroid with the right equipment.
“For several hours centered on the flyby time, 2023 DZ2 will be bright enough to
be seen with the help of good binoculars and small telescope,” Gianluca Masi, an astronomer with the Virtual Telescope Project (VTP), told Newsweek. “A 90 mm large telescope will easily show it.”
The asteroid is currently visible in the constellation of Cancer, but on Saturday it will pass through Leo, Virgo and Libra.
If you do not have access to a telescope or binoculars, you can still watch 2023 DZ2’s close approach to our planet. The VTP will be providing a livestream that will enable viewers to observe the asteroid as it zooms past the Earth.
The VTP is a service provided by the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory in Ceccano, Italy, that operates and provides access to robotic, remotely operated telescopes.
The livestream will begin at 11:30 p.m. UTC on Saturday, or 7:30 p.m. ET. Masi described the approach as “very close.”
2023 DZ2 likely measures about 230 feet across, although the available data accounts for a range of possible sizes. Figures from the CNEOS database show that the asteroid could measure anywhere from 141 to 318 feet in diameter. At the upper end of this size range, the asteroid would stand slightly taller than the Statue of Liberty.
At the time of its close approach, the asteroid will be traveling around 17,400 miles per hour. This is more than eight times faster than a rifle bullet.
2023 DZ2 is one of more than 31,000 near-Earth objects, or NEOs, that scientists have identified to date. Near-Earth object is a term used to refer to any astronomical body orbiting the sun that passes within 30 million miles of our planet’s orbit
The vast majority of these NEOs are asteroids—most of which are small—although there a more than a hundred comets included in this category.
More than 2,300 of these NEOs are categorized as “Potentially Hazardous,” based on their orbits and larger sizes. Specifically, they have orbits that come within 4.6 million miles of Earth’s path around the sun and are estimated to measure more than 140 meters (around 460 feet) across.
Potentially hazardous objects are large enough to produce significant damage on at least a regional scale in the event of an impact with Earth.
But the CNEOS’s analysis of their orbits indicates that no potentially hazardous object currently has any notable chance of colliding with Earth over the next century or so. (The CNEOS calculates the motion of all NEOs up until the year 2200.)
Scientists are constantly monitoring the sky to detect previously unidentified NEOs and track the movement of known ones for planetary defense purposes.
Sometimes, space rocks are identified for the first time shortly before they make a close approach to our planet. This is the case with 2023 DZ2—the space rock was discovered by astronomers on February 27.
But this situation has also occurred recently with other relatively small asteroids, including 2023 EY and 2023 BU, which were also discovered a few days before their respective flybys.
Masi said it is not necessarily concerning that small asteroids like these were detected only days before their close approach dates.
“The increase we see in the detection rate of small asteroids is mainly due to our improving capabilities to spot small objects,” he said. “Hopefully, this rate will increase more and more. It is a good thing, it says we are better and better monitoring the sky and keeping safe our planet.”
In addition, he said, it is “unlikely” larger, more dangerous asteroids with the potential to cause widespread devastation on the ground would be spotted so late. It is generally thought that preparing a mission to protect our planet from a potentially dangerous asteroid on a collision course with us would require a significant amount of planning and development.
“A large asteroid is typically bright, so it is reasonable to say we have probably already seen it,” Masi said. “Of course, we can still have a few large objects on peculiar orbits, making them harder to spot—another reason to support observing programs.”
Even though 2023 DZ2 was discovered just last month, astronomers have calculated its orbit accurately, and there is no chance of a collision during its upcoming flyby.
Astronomers have calculated though that there is a 1 in 71,000 chance that the object—which takes around three years to orbit the sun—could collide with Earth on March 27, 2026. But this is extremely unlikely, and the most probable scenario is that it will fly safely past our planet again.
In the event of an impact involving 2023 DZ2, astronomers have determined that the space rock would produce an air burst—meaning it would explode—in the upper atmosphere. In such a scenario, some fragments of the object would likely reach the ground, Masi said.
Even objects that explode in air bursts high up in the atmosphere can still cause damage on the ground. The most powerful air burst in recorded history—known as the Tunguska event—likely involved the 1908 explosion of an object measuring roughly 150 to 250 feet in size at an altitude of several miles over a remote region of Siberia.
The explosion released hundreds of times more energy than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. It also flattened more than 80 million trees across some 500,000 acres of forest and killed hundreds of reindeer, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
In 2013, an object blew up over Chelyabinsk, in Russia’s southern Ural region. This event was caused by a 66-foot wide asteroid entering the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of around 43,000 miles per hour.
The explosion was estimated to be as powerful as the blast created by 400,000 to 500,000 tons of TNT. It caused damage on the ground in the region and also led to several hundred injuries.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has calculated that an air burst involving 2023 DZ2 would produce energy equivalent to 5 megatons of TNT exploding. This is more than 200 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki following the Hiroshima bombing.