Asteroid could collide with Earth with force of 12 megaton bomb, Wyoming astronomer says

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

You might want to wait to make plans for Valentine’s Day – in 2046.

This is the expected day that asteroid 2023 DW, which was discovered on February 26, may cross paths with Earth. The object, estimated to be about 164 feet in diameter, has a 1-in-607 chance of crashing into our planet.

And while the impact of a 50-foot-wide rock might not be considered an ELE (extinction-level event, for those who haven’t seen the 1998 movie “Deep Impact”), a collision could still create a disaster zone over 800 square miles.

“An interesting comparison is the Tunguska event in Siberia in 1908,” said Daniel Dale, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Wyoming. “The object responsible for the Tunguska event was estimated to be 50-80 meters in diameter, matching the estimates for the size of this object.

“The event destroyed 80 million trees over 2,150 square kilometers,” Dale said.

That’s the equivalent of about a 12-megaton bomb. By comparison, Little Boy, the first atomic bomb dropped on Japan on August 6, 1945, was 15 kilotons.

Possible impact path of asteroid DW 2023, expected to hit Earth on February 14, 2046.

Discovery of asteroids

Dale said scientists discover these objects in surveys that repeatedly scan the night sky.

“Any object that appears to be moving relative to the background field of stars in the Milky Way is a candidate for an asteroid,” Dale told Cowboy State Daily.

“The trajectory is calculated based on tracking the motion over a series of observations. With an estimate of the trajectory and speed, one can extrapolate forward in time its future path,” he said.

The European Space Agency reported the asteroid’s discovery, and the celestial object has been added to the top of the agency’s “Risk List,” which tracks objects that could potentially affect Earth.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the world will end on February 14, 2046.

Turin stairs

2023 DW is ranked on the Torino scale, which rates the severity of collision predictions, as a Level 1, meaning the asteroid poses “no unusual degree of danger.”

For reference, there are 10 ten levels on the Turin scale, with a 10 capable of causing global climate catastrophe that “could threaten the future of life as we know it,” according to the scale. But level 10 events only happen once every 250,000 years or so.

2023 DW is the only asteroid on the European Space Agency’s Risk List to have a ranking of 1. There are 1,448 other asteroids on the list, each ranking 0.

So while it’s not considered a major danger, it’s still the most dangerous asteroid on a potential collision course with the planet that we know of.

Zone of influence

Italian astronomer Piero Sicoli mapped the possible impact zone, which lies somewhere between the Indian Ocean and the East Coast of the United States.

“With only 3 days of arc, I found about a 1 in 400 chance of impact on February 14, 2046,” Sicoli tweeted.

NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office reported that the risk of the 2023 DW impacting the planet in 2046 remains “very small”, noting that once new objects are discovered, it takes weeks of observations to refine the official predictions.

“Orbital analysts will continue to monitor asteroid 2023 DW and update predictions as more data comes in,” the office tweeted.

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