Asteroid Passing Earth Tonight, Similar In Size To Last Month's Russian Meteor
March 4, 2013

Asteroid Passing Earth Tonight, Similar In Size To Last Month’s Russian Meteor

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

An asteroid about the same size as the meteor that exploded over Russia's Ural Mountains last month will be making a close, but safe pass by Earth tonight.

Asteroid 2013 EC will be passing by Earth about 246,000 miles away, about 20 times farther out than Asteroid 2012 DA14 that passed by February 15.

The asteroid was discovered on Saturday by astronomers at the Mt. Lemmon Observatory in Arizona.

Asteroid 2013 EC is between 32- and 52-feet wide, about the same size as the Russian meteor that injured nearly 1,000 people on February 15 this year. This meteor streaked across Russia's skies early in the morning, and was captured on video by numerous car and security cameras. Injuries did not come from the meteor itself, but from shattering windows as a result of the shockwave the space rock created as it entered Earth's atmosphere and exploded overhead.

Tonight's meteor will be about as far away from us as the moon is -- around 1.0 lunar distances. The moon varies between 225,622 miles and 252,088 miles.

Being able to predict a meteor's orbit like 2013 EC is becoming more and more important for scientists, for the safety of both people on the ground and astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS). Scientists believe a meteor like the one that struck Russia last month could happen once every few decades, so being prepared for when the next large meteor strikes Earth could help save lives one day.

2013 EC will not be striking Earth or causing any damage to the satellites that orbit Earth as it passes by tonight, but it will be whizzing by at a very quick pace. The asteroid will move past Earth at a speed of about 12.5 miles per second, according to NASA predictions.

“That we are finding all these asteroids recently does not mean that we are being visited by more asteroids,” Gianluca Masi from the Virtual Telescope Project said during a live webcast when the asteroid was about twice the distance of the moon. “Just that our ability to detect them has gotten so much better. Our technology has improved a lot over the past decades.”

Ed Lu, chairman and chief executive officer of the nonprofit B612 Foundation, wrote in a blog post after the Russian meteor explosion that scientists have the technology to deflect asteroids, but pointed out that we cannot do anything about them if we do not know they exist.