On Tuesday night around 6:05 p.m. EST, an asteroid will scrape by Earth. Once again, though, our planet will escape harm.
The asteroid, dubbed 2010 WC9, is the closest one of its size to buzz by Earth in 300 years, swerving by at a distance of approximately half that between the Earth and the moon, just 126,419 miles from our airspace. As its name suggests, it was first discovered in 2010—and, despite its large size, astronomers could only catch a faint glimmer of it before it flung further into the universe.
But 2010 WC9 has made its menacing return. Thought to be somewhere between 125 and 390 feet in circumference (we don’t know for sure since astronomers are relying on its brightness and distance to gauge its size), 2010 WC9 is thought to be a gigantic asteroid, larger even than the 65-foot-wide meteor that tumbled onto Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013, resulting in shattered windows and sending about 1,500 people to the hospital. 2010 WC9 has been variously referred to as the size of the Statue of Liberty, a jumbo jet, or the size of a city block. Whatever the case, it is quite large, larger than the usual sprinkling of pebbles that get burned up by the atmosphere as they try to enter the Earth.
Even in the worst situation of 2010 WC9 slamming into the planet, the actual effects of it wouldn’t cause an Armageddon-like situation. It would take an asteroid more than a half-mile in size to end civilization as we know it. But that’s not to say that 2010 WC9 wouldn’t cause damage; the Chelyabinsk meteor shows that a seemingly ignorable piece of space debris can still be a weapon when gravity (and chance) hurtle it downwards into civilization.
The last asteroid to potentially threaten our Earthly existence was also gigantic. JO25, reverentially referred to as “The Rock” by space nerds who compared actor Dwayne Johnson to the 2,000-foot long asteroid, came within 1.1 million miles of Earth in April 2017. That’s about four-and-a-half times the distance between the Earth and the moon, putting 2010 WC9 comparatively within spitting distance of the Earth.
But hey! Do not fear. This asteroid won’t come back for another 100 years. Maybe our asteroid-blasting capabilities will have been improved by then.