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Asteroid 2023 BU: A close encounter with Earth

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  • Staff Report 

An asteroid, measuring approximately the size of a minibus, is set to pass by Earth in the coming hours. The asteroid, known as 2023 BU, was first spotted by amateur astronomer Gennadiy Borisov last weekend and was found to be on a close approach trajectory with Earth. Follow-up observations have refined its size and orbit, and astronomers have determined that it will pass at a distance of 3,600 km (2,200 miles) from Earth, making it a close encounter.

Although 2023 BU poses no threat to Earth, it serves as a reminder of the potential dangers that asteroids pose to our planet. The asteroid will pass close to the southern tip of South America, just after midnight GMT and will come inside the arc occupied by the world’s telecommunications satellites, which sit 36,000km (22,000 miles) above us. However, the chances of hitting a satellite are very small.

Even if 2023 BU was on a direct collision course, it would not cause significant damage. With an estimated size of 3.5m to 8.5m across (11.5ft to 28ft), the rock would likely disintegrate high in the atmosphere. It would produce a spectacular fireball, but would not cause any damage on the ground. The famous Chelyabinsk meteor that entered Earth’s atmosphere over southern Russia in 2013 was an object near 20m (66ft) across and produced a shockwave that shattered windows on the ground.

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Scientists at the US space agency NASA have also determined that 2023 BU’s orbit around the Sun will be modified by its encounter with Earth. Earth’s gravity will pull on it and adjust its path through space, making it more elongated and moving it out to about halfway between Earth’s and Mars’ orbits at its farthest point from the Sun. The asteroid will then complete one orbit every 425 days.

It is important to note that there are many asteroids out there that remain undiscovered and could pose a significant threat to Earth if they were to collide with our planet. The true monsters out there, like the 12km-wide rock that wiped out the dinosaurs, have likely all been detected and are not a cause for worry. But come down in size to something that is, say, 150m across and our inventory has gaps. Statistics indicate that perhaps only about 40% of these asteroids have been seen and assessed to determine the level of threat they might pose.

In conclusion, asteroid 2023 BU is a reminder of the potential dangers that asteroids pose to our planet and the importance of ongoing efforts to find and track asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth.

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