The size of Mount Everest The asteroid that swept past Earth in 1989 will return for a much closer visit in late May.
The asteroid, 1989 JA, was discovered on May 1, 1989, by Eleanor Helin at the Palomar Observatory. 1989 JA came close to Earth but was not considered dangerous at the time.
This time it will be a different story, as asteroid 1989 JA will be close enough to be considered potentially dangerous, and will even be visible with a small telescope from Earth. But don’t worry, you’ll be about 2.5 million miles from Earth when it passes by on May 27.
The large space rock will also cross Earth’s orbital path on its journey, passing behind our planet as it continues its journey around the Sun.
1989 JA size and closest approach to Earth
1989 JA has an 861-day orbit around the Sun. That makes the asteroid return to Earth’s neighborhood at irregular intervals, sometimes a few years apart, other times a couple decades apart. Current estimates place the asteroid 2.5 million miles from Earth, about 10 times the distance to the moon from Earth.
The previous closest encounter with the asteroid was 3.4 million miles away in 1949, according to data from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. May’s encounter with the asteroid will be the closest approach for at least the next two centuries.
Due to the fact that 1989 JA will cross Earth’s orbit and take more than one Earth year to orbit the sun (861 years), it is classified as an Apollo asteroid.
What is a potentially dangerous asteroid?
Asteroid 1989 JA might not be a major cause for concern, but it is still classified as a potentially dangerous asteroid. Scientists refer to asteroids as potentially hazardous when they travel within 4.6 million miles or less and are larger than 140 m (~500 ft) in diameter. An object of that size has the potential to cause great damage to our planet. If an object is much smaller and encounters Earth, it will mostly burn up in the atmosphere and cause no major threat.
According to NASA, there is no major threat to the planet until 2186, when the asteroid 2009 FD will pass. Although significant, the probability of impact is still only 0.2 percent. There is little need to lose sleep anytime soon over hearing about potentially dangerous asteroids.
Should I worry about 1989 JA?
Asteroid 1989 JA should safely glide past Earth on its journey around the sun. In fact, it’s just one of numerous near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) that NASA and others have been keeping an eye on. NASA and other agencies and observatories constantly track NEAs as part of planetary defense initiatives.
A near-Earth object, 2006 FJ42, with an estimated diameter of between 380m and 860m, came within 2.7 million miles of Earth last year. Asteroid 2022 GN1 also safely flew past Earth last month, coming within 79,000 miles. These passes occur frequently, but have little chance of impacting our planet. Astronomers are also aware of most of the large objects that could come across Earth, while future observatories should help them find the smaller ones.
What are the largest near-Earth asteroids?
There are currently more than 870 near-Earth asteroids (NEAs). Many remain to be discovered, with many factors such as visibility and location making some NEAs difficult to detect. Of those asteroids, some have given us a little fear:
- The largest asteroid scientists have discovered so far is 1036 Ganymed, which is 25.5 miles in diameter. Fortunately, this city-sized asteroid has little chance of approaching Earth in our lifetime.
- NASA is investigating the asteroid Bennu, which has a slim chance of impacting Earth in the late 21st century.
- A recent extremely close encounter occurred in 2008 when an asteroid came within 4,000 miles of Earth.
- As for actual Earth impacts, there is a record of a 330-foot-diameter asteroid or comet disintegrating over remote Siberia in 1908. A 66-foot meteorite also exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013, causing more than 1,000 wounded.
When will 1989 JA return to Earth?
After it safely passes Earth in May 2022, 1989 JA will return for years to come. According to NASA/JPL data, in 2029 and 2048 the asteroid will fly much further, more than 24 million miles. Two more passes will be made, in 2055 and 2062, before 1989 JA gets as close as when it was first discovered. Although it won’t come as close as this current pass, it will make a closer approach again in 2081, when 1989 JA comes within 7 million miles of Earth.