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Don't fear that Eiffel Tower-size asteroid passing Earth next week

Absolute-unit asteroid 4660 Nereus has been considered as a target for space missions.

asteroidnereus
The Arecibo Observatory picked up these radar images of 4660 Nereus in 2002.
Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF

Asteroids are constantly flying by Earth at safe distances, but sometimes the headlines about them heat up enough to draw my attention. Asteroid 4660 Nereus is set to visit our cosmic neighborhood, making a close pass on Dec. 11. Some headlines call it "concerning" and say it'll "break into Earth's orbit." But it's all good. Be sure to wave as it passes safely by.

The egg-shaped asteroid will give us a respectful 2.4 million miles (3.9 million kilometers) of breathing room. It's estimated to be as wide as the Eiffel Tower is tall, so it's a big 'un for sure. The 2021 flyby is no cause for concern. In fact, it'll squeeze in much closer in 2060, when NASA estimates it'll come within a slimmer -- but still safe -- 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) of our planet.

Nereus may be drawing more attention because it's classified as "potentially hazardous" due to its size and orbital path. A lot of asteroids meet the requirements to be potentially hazardous. A NASA survey in 2012 predicted there could be 4,700 such asteroids out there.

We've known about 4660 Nereus since 1982. NASA had referred to it as a "leading candidate for exploration by spacecraft." 

I'm not dismissing the asteroid threat to Earth. They've hit the planet in the past and will likely come at us again. But scientists have gotten pretty good at spotting and tracking the space objects, and NASA just launched a proactive planetary defense mission with DART. DART will test out the idea that a spacecraft could smash into an asteroid and nudge it off a hazardous path.

You can rest easy on Dec. 11 knowing Nereus will be far away, just another asteroid on the lost (space) highway.