On Wednesday the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) and California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced that a recently discovered asteroid will pass closely to Earth this Sunday Sept. 7. Though close in astronomical terms, the asteroid’s closest approach will be at a safe distance of 25,000 miles, about one-tenth the distance from the Earth to the Moon.
The asteroid, 2014 RC, is approximately 60 feet in diameter, about the same size as an asteroid which exploded in the atmosphere above Russia in Feb. 2013 causing significant property damage within its vicinity. It was discovered by astronomers at the University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey on Sunday Aug. 31 and also observed independently by other astronomers in Hawaii on Monday Sept. 1. Closest approach will occur above the New Zealand area on Sunday at 2:18 pm EDT, though the asteroid will not be observable with the naked eye.
According to the JPL, the asteroid will pass below the Earth and its ring of geosynchronous satellites. Geosynchronous satellites, which orbit at a little over 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, have an orbital period which matches the rotation of the Earth. This allows them to constantly remain over the same area of the Earth, a critical function for communications and weather satellites. A geosynchronous orbit is also called a geostationary orbit or a Clarke Orbit after writer Arthur C. Clarke.
Small asteroids pass closely to Earth quite often without incident. In June 2014 the Catalina Sky Survey reported a close approach of a small asteroid approximately 30 feet in size, passing within 65,000 miles of the Earth.