A team tasked with monitoring the skies for near-Earth objects (NEOs) that threaten the planet has discovered an asteroid that will pass only 7,500 miles above the Earth’s surface on June 27 -- a distance roughly the same as between Dacula, Ga. and Kabul, Afghanistan.
The asteroid, named 2011 MD, was discovered by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project, a program funded by the United States Air Force and NASA.
A statement posted June 23 on NASA’s Near Earth Object Program website indicates the newly discovered asteroid will make its closest approach to Earth in the southern hemisphere over the southern Atlantic Ocean. In those areas, the asteroid should be bright enough to be seen with a “modest-sized telescope," officials said.
According to the website, “This small asteroid, only 5-20 meters in diameter, is in a very Earth-like orbit about the Sun, but an orbital analysis indicates there is no chance it will actually strike Earth on Monday.”
Though the asteroid is not expected to strike the Earth, the outgoing leg of the asteroid’s trajectory will pass “well inside” the planet’s geosynchronous ring of satellites which is approximately 22,000 miles above Earth’s surface. The Moon, by comparison, orbits the Earth at an average distance of 238,854 miles away.
The statement on the NASA’s Near Earth Object Program website advises an object of this size will come this close to Earth every six years on average.
The purpose of the NASA Near Earth Object Program is to identify and track potentially hazardous asteroids and comets. The program is also responsible for alerting the public if any potentially hazardous NEOs are discovered.
As of June 22, 2011, the NASA Near Earth Object Program has discovered more than 8,100 near-Earth objects. Of those, 1,236 have been classified as potentially hazardous asteroids.