A new, “potentially hazardous” asteroid has been discovered by one of NASA’s recently reactivated spacecraft – and it’s headed in Earth’s direction.
The new asteroid, called 2013 YP139, was spotted by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE), and marks the spacecraft’s first discovery since being resurrected last year.
According to the Telegraph, the asteroid is still 27 million miles (43 million km) away from Earth, but with a diameter of nearly half a mile (0.4 miles, to be precise), an impact with our planet would cause significant damage. NASA estimates any asteroid with a diameter greater than 0.5 miles could create worldwide consequences upon impact.
The 2013 YP139 doesn’t quite raise concern to that level, but its trajectory has attracted the attention of NASA.
Fortunately, the space agency added that the asteroid will miss the Earth this time around, though it will fly by our planet at a distance of 300,000 miles, or about as close as the moon. It’s not expected to get any closer for the next century.
Before going into “hibernation,” the NEOWISE had discovered more than 34,000 asteroids in 2010 and 2011, with potentially hundreds of discoveries ahead. The spacecraft scans what’s typically a static space background, looking for disruptions it can follow and analyze.
“We are delighted to get back to finding and characterising asteroids and comets, especially those that come into Earth’s neighborhood,” said Amy Mainzer of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who is leading the mission, according to the Huffington Post.“With our infrared sensors that detect heat, we can learn about their sizes and reflectiveness.”