We only have just hit asteroid 2022 GN1, and it’s already on its way out the door — but not before getting a little closer to Earth than comfortable.
Announced yesterday by the Minor Planet Center’s Minor Planet Electronic Circular, the asteroid will come within 79,000 miles of Earth — or about a third of the distance between Earth and the Moon. Fortunately, the asteroid will pass us without harming Earth and its inhabitants. However, we earthlings will get the chance to observe the asteroid on its journey.
How big is 2022 GN1?
The asteroid is estimated to be between 23.6 and 52.5 feet in height. Because we just love comparing objects in space to objects on Earth, it’s estimated to be the length of a city bus and a single letter of the Hollywood sign. Or between 1.3 and 2.8 giraffes if that’s your preferred unit of measurement. Or, if you prefer a sporting analogy, between 3.3 and 7.4 Shaquille O’Neals stacked on top of each other. That’s a lot of Shaqs.
As the asteroid passes harmlessly by, observatories such as the Virtual Observatory will continue to stream the encounter live starting at 9 p.m. tonight
What would happen if 2022 GN1 hit Earth?
The asteroid had previously escaped detection due to its small size. While most of the large near-Earth objects have been cataloged, various agencies and other observatories are working to find smaller and smaller ones. Not the type to kill the dinosaurs, mind you, but enough to wreak local havoc once they enter our atmosphere.
For example, the Chelyabinsk meteor, which was similar in size to 2022 GN1, exploded over the Russian city of the same name in 2013, resulting in more than 1,000 people reporting injuries that required medical attention, mostly from broken glass. It released about 20 to 30 times the power of the atomic bomb used on Hiroshima and avoided widespread damage thanks to its breakup in the upper atmosphere.
The asteroid, like many of its brethren in the Apollo family of asteroids, has a wide inner Solar System orbit that takes it well beyond the orbit of Mars before swinging back past Earth — in this case, with the sun’s closest approach somewhat outside Venus. Orbit. For this encounter it will be visible in the constellation Virgo, although only the most experienced backyard astronomers will be able to capture its encounter.
Will 2022 GN1 Return to Earth?
Although announced yesterday, other observatories have searched their archives and found 2022 GN1 in observations dating back to March 5, 2022. Its close approach to Earth prompts NASA to classify it as a potentially dangerous asteroid, although that is its closest approach, at least for 140 years. It likely last had a close encounter with Earth in 1952, according to NASA data, and will have significantly fewer close flybys in 2030 and 2033. After that, it won’t be going past Earth again until 2156, so this is the next time it’s going to be dangerous, and it’s going to miss us quite a bit.
Still, astronomers are working to solve the loose understanding of smaller near-Earth objects. The upcoming Vera Rubin Observatory, for example, will be able to identify objects at 10 to 100 times the current observational power and observe those objects ranging in size from giraffes to several trench-coated Shaqs more closely.