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A newly discovered asteroid roughly the size of an Olympic swimming pool has a “small chance” of colliding with Earth in 23 years, with a potential impact on Valentine’s Day in 2046, according to NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.
The asteroid has a 1 in 625 chance of striking Earth, based on data projections from the European Space Agency, though NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Sentry system calculated the odds closer to 1 in 560. The latter tracks potential collisions with celestial objects.
But the space rock — named 2023 DW — is the only object on NASA’s risk list that ranks 1 out of 10 on the Torino Impact Hazard Scale, a metric for categorizing the projected risk of an object colliding with Earth. All other objects rank at 0 on the Torino scale.
Though the 2023 DW tops the list, its ranking of 1 means only that “the chance of collision is extremely unlikely with no cause for public attention or public concern,” according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, while a 0 ranking means the “likelihood of a collision is zero, or is so low as to be effectively zero.”
“This object is not particularly concerning,” said Davide Farnocchia, a navigation engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
NASA officials have warned that the odds of impact could be dramatically altered as more observations of 2023 DW are collected and additional analysis is performed.
“Often when new objects are first discovered,” NASA Asteroid Watch noted Tuesday on Twitter, “it takes several weeks of data to reduce the uncertainties and adequately predict their orbits years into the future.”
Risk of asteroid impact
It’s common for newly discovered asteroids to appear more threatening when first observed.
“Because orbits stemming from very limited observation sets are more uncertain it is more likely that such orbits will ‘permit’ future impacts,” the Center for Near Earth Object Studies, located at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, notes on its website.
“However, such early predictions can often be ruled out as we incorporate more observations and reduce the uncertainties in the object’s orbit,” it reads. “Most often, the threat associated with a specific object will decrease as additional observations become available.”
It may be a few days before new data can be collected because of the asteroid’s proximity to the moon, Farnocchia noted in an email to CNN. The last full moon was two days ago, and it still appears bright and large in the sky, likely obscuring 2023 DW from immediate observation, he said.
“But then the object will remain observable for weeks (even months with larger telescopes) so we can get plenty of observations as needed,” he added.
The asteroid measures about 160 feet (about 50 meters) in diameter, according to NASA data. As 2023 DW orbits the sun, it has 10 predicted close approaches to Earth, with the nearest landing on February 14, 2046, and nine others between 2047 and 2054. The closest the asteroid is expected to travel to Earth is about 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers), NASA’s Eyes on Asteroids website notes.
The space rock was first spotted in our skies on February 2.
It’s traveling about 15.5 miles per second (25 kilometers per second) at a distance of more than 11 million miles (18 million kilometers) from Earth, completing one loop around the sun every 271 days.
Farnocchia noted the success of NASA’s DART mission, or the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, in September 2022 as evidence that humanity can be prepared to confront space rocks on potentially disastrous courses. DART intentionally collided a spacecraft into an asteroid to change its trajectory.
“That’s the very reason why we flew that mission,” he said, “and that mission was a spectacular success.”