Asteroid flyby today: Too close for comfort?

The aircraft carrier-sized 2005 YU55 asteroid will be only some 200,000 miles from Earth when it passes by. That's closer than the moon.

The latest image of Asteroid 2005 YU55, snapped yesterday by NASA.
The latest image of Asteroid 2005 YU55, snapped yesterday by NASA. NASA/JPL-Caltech

An aircraft carrier-size asteroid is scheduled to pass near Earth later today, and NASA is snapping images as it comes closer.

According to the U.S. space agency, asteroid 2005 YU55 will pass no closer than 201,700 miles from Earth, or about 85 percent of the distance between our planet and the moon. The asteroid is expected to be closest to the planet at 3:28 p.m. PT. Because of its distance from Earth, NASA doesn't expect the asteroid to have any impact on tides or tectonic plates.

Although the space rock will be at a safe distance, it will be rather close, in space terms. In fact, NASA points out that it will be closer to Earth than any asteroid to fly by since 1976. It said YU55 hasn't been this close to Earth for "at least the last 200 years." What's more, it doesn't expect another asteroid of this size to near Earth until 2028.

As YU55 nears, NASA has been able to snap increasingly detailed photos of the asteroid. Its last-released radar image was taken at NASA's Goldstone, Calif., facility yesterday afternoon, when the asteroid was 860,000 miles from Earth. NASA, which will conduct radar observations today at its Arecibo Planetary Radar Facility in Puerto Rico to learn about the asteroid's surface and physical properties, expects to take far more detailed images, as the asteroid nears.

As YU55 flies by later today, don't expect it to be gone forever. As NASA points out, it follows an orbit that consistently brings it within the vicinity of Earth, Venus, and Mars.

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