On October 6th, 2013, the Catalina Sky Survey discovered a small asteroid which was later designated as 2013 TX68.
As part Apollo group this 30 meter (100 ft) rock is one of many Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) that periodically crosses Earth’s orbit and passes close to our planet.
A few years ago, it did just that, flying by our planet at a safe distance of about 2 million km (1.3 million miles).
And according to NASA’s Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it will be passing us again in a few weeks time, specifically between March 2nd and 6th.
Of course, asteroids pass Earth by on a regular basis, and there is very rarely any cause for alarm.
However, there is some anxiety about 2013 TX68’s latest flyby, mainly because its distance could be subject to some serious variation.
Basically, the asteroid is expected to make its closest approach on March 5th, and will pass Earth at a distance of between 14 million km (9 million) and 17,000 km (11,000 miles).
By comparison, the Earth’s Moon lies at an average distance of 384,399 km(238,854 miles) from Earth, ranging from about 362,600 km (225,309 mi) at perigee to 405,400 km (251,904 mi) at apogee.
This means that there is a chance that, between March 2nd and 6th, this small asteroid will get far closer to Earth than the Moon ever does. The reason for this variation in estimates has to do with the trajectory of the asteroid, which scientists cannot entirely predict. This in turn is due to the fact that they have only been able to track it since its discovery, just three years ago.
“The possibilities of collision on any of the three future flyby dates are far too small to be of any real concern. I fully expect any future observations to reduce the probability even more… This asteroid’s orbit is quite uncertain, and it will be hard to predict where to look for it. There is a chance that the asteroid will be picked up by our asteroid search telescopes when it safely flies past us next month, providing us with data to more precisely define its orbit around the sun.”
In addition, in the unlikely event that the asteroid does hit Earth, it is too small to cause any significant damage. Consider the asteroid that broke up in the atmosphere over the Russian town of Chelyabinsk in 2013. That asteroid measured roughly 20 meters across (65 feet), and caused significant property damage and over 1500 injuries. However, this damage was limited to the effects of the sonic boom caused by its explosion in the atmosphere.