In the vastness of space, an astronomical event is set to captivate the world next week as Asteroid 139622 (2001 QQ142), a celestial giant measuring half a mile in diameter, hurtles past Earth. This massive space rock, larger than 97 percent of all asteroids, is on a rare trajectory, bringing it remarkably close to our planet. As it orbits the sun every 620 days, this colossal visitor graces Earth’s proximity only once every two decades.
On December 6, 2023, Asteroid 139622 will perform its cosmic ballet, passing a mere 3,434,294 miles away from Earth. To put this into perspective, that’s roughly the length of 260 Great Walls of China. Despite the apprehension surrounding the term “near-miss,” experts assure us that this distance is vast enough to eliminate any potential threat. At a staggering speed of four miles per second (14,400 miles per hour), the asteroid will swiftly traverse our cosmic neighbourhood.
While this particular encounter poses no imminent danger, NASA has classified Asteroid 139622 as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA) due to its formidable size and occasional proximity to Earth. The ominous designation reflects the agency’s vigilance in monitoring celestial bodies that could pose a threat to our planet. The closest approach within most people’s lifetimes will occur on December 17, 2045, when the asteroid will come within 3 million miles of Earth.
Future Close Calls
Looking ahead, the cosmic calendar reveals even more intriguing encounters with Asteroid 139622. On December 13, 2123, calculations predict a remarkably close approach, with the asteroid estimated to be a mere 1.3 million miles away from Earth. While this proximity is just five times the distance to the moon, it raises questions about the potential influence of celestial dynamics on our cosmic neighbour’s orbit.
Beyond the Risk List
Surprisingly, Asteroid 139622 does not currently feature on the European Space Agency’s Risk List, a compilation of 1,563 celestial objects with a non-zero chance of striking Earth. Despite the vast majority of these objects having minimal odds of collision, the omission of this colossal asteroid underscores the complexities of predicting the trajectories of space rocks. Scientists, however, remain vigilant, constantly refining their understanding of celestial dynamics.
Recent advancements in space science provide a glimmer of hope in addressing potential threats from celestial neighbours. Last year, a groundbreaking NASA experiment successfully altered the trajectory of a celestial object, showcasing humanity’s growing capability to intervene in the cosmic dance. As we continue to explore and understand our cosmic surroundings, the prospect of redirecting asteroids away from Earth gains traction, offering a sense of security against potential future threats.
While the upcoming flyby of Asteroid 139622 (2001 QQ142) may stir curiosity and awe, the scientific community assures us that there is no reason for immediate concern. As technology advances, so does our ability to monitor and, if necessary, alter the trajectories of celestial bodies, providing a reassuring glimpse into the future of planetary defence.