Four asteroids will pass by Earth this week, and the New Mexico Observatory is part of the network that monitors their passage.
On Friday, asteroids QC5 and GE will pass through the solar system at a distance of 2.53 million and 3.56 million miles, respectively. At 84 feet tall, NASA describes the QC5 as about the size of an airplane. At 26 feet long, the GE asteroid is about the size of a bus. Two other asteroids of the same size will pass by on Sunday, QE8 and QF6. They would be closer, 945,000 and 1.65 million miles. NASA reports that the average distance of the moon is about 239,000 miles.
Dr. Eileen Ryan, director of the 2.4-meter Magdalena Ridge Observatory telescope, said there was nothing to worry about.
“We have a network of people who monitor the sky dynamically every night, every night as often as they can,” Ryan said. “It’s a small group, but it’s a dedicated group. We’re cataloging these things and making sure they don’t pose a threat or danger to the Earth.”
NASA’s Office of Planetary Defense tracks asteroids and other objects in space that could pose a threat to Earth. They recently tested plans to deflect larger incoming objects.
“This was actually the topic of NASA’s DART mission recently,” Ryan said. “We’ve crashed a spacecraft into a small moon of a larger asteroid to see if we can push it out of the way, and if we spot one of these hundred-meter-sized objects heading towards us, we’ve succeeded.”
The Magdalena Ridge Observatory and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology received funding from NASA’s Planetary Defense Division in 2008. Now, the observatory remains part of the follow-up telescope in the network.
“The silver lining in all of this dramatic news this week is that the reason we’re seeing all this on the news is because we have a much more technological advantage today than we did 20 or 30 years ago,” Ryan said. He said. “The telescopes are bigger and the people who use them are very skilled and creative, and they can do a better job of finding these objects earlier in their orbits.”