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Asteroid 2022 NF will fly extremely close to Earth tonight

A small bus-sized asteroid will make an extremely close approach to Earth on Thursday (July 7), passing within just 56,000 miles (90,000 kilometers) — or about 23% of the average distance between Earth and the moon. And just a few days ago, no one knew it was coming

That asteroidcalled 2022 NF, is expected to safely pass our planet, according to NASA calculations Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Astronomers spotted the sneaky asteroid using data from the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) – a system of cameras and telescopes in Hawaii with the main target, nearbyEarth Objects or NEOs. On July 4, researchers identified the object and calculated its approximate size and trajectory, estimating that the space rock was between 18 and 41 feet wide (5.5 meters and 12.5 meters) at its longest dimension.

Related: Why do asteroids have such strange shapes?

Because of its small size, 2022 NF doesn’t meet NASA’s criteria for a “potentially hazardous asteroid,” generally being at least 460 feet (140 meters) long and within 4.6 million miles (7.5 million kilometers) of Earth The sister site of Live Science Space.com. While the newly discovered asteroid will sail far within that distance, it is far too small to be considered an existential threat to Earth.

Although the asteroid will make its closest approach to Earth on July 7, it will be visible to some telescopes beginning Wednesday (July 6); The Virtual Telescope Project will broadcast the asteroid’s flyby live from its telescope in Rome starting at 4:00 p.m. EDT (08:00 UTC). You can join by clicking on the Virtual Telescope Project website here.

NASA and other space agencies are closely monitoring thousands of NEOs like this one. They rarely pose a threat to Earth – but some large asteroids could prove dangerous should their orbits change.

In November 2021, NASA launched an asteroid-deflecting spacecraft called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which will make a head-on impact with the 525-foot-wide (160 m) Dimorphos asteroid in fall 2022. The collision will not destroy the asteroid, but it can change the orbit of the space rock easily, Live Science previously reported. The mission will help test the viability of the asteroid deflection should a future asteroid pose an imminent threat to our planet.

Originally published on Live Science.