ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) — A large asteroid will make a pass by Earth Saturday, August 21, 2021.
It has been designated by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as asteroid 2016 AJ193. NASA has designated this asteroid to be “Potentially Dangerous” because of its close pass to Earth. Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are defined as asteroids with a Minimum Earth Orbit Intersection Distance (MOID) of 0.05 Astronomical Units, about 4.6 million miles, or less.
2016 AJ193’s orbit is about 8.9 times the moon’s distance from Earth at its closest point. That’s a huge and safe distance but relatively close for a very large space rock. It’ll be close enough that both amateur and professional astronomers will be able to spot and study it. And while asteroid 2016 AJ193 is considered a PHA, there is no threat of impact to Earth.
According to data collected by NASA this asteroid is roughly 1.5 km, or just over half a mile in diameter. It is most comparable in size to the diameter of the US Pentagon (1.37 km) and is moving fast. Its current approach speed is about 58,538 miles per hour, or just over 94,000 kilometers per hour. That means asteroid 2016 AJ193 is covering 16 miles every second. The asteroid will make its closest approach to Earth August, 21st, 2021 at 10:10am CT.
Notice the asteroid’s designation: 2016 AJ193. The Panoramic Survey and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS 1), located in the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii, first discovered this asteroid in January of 2016. Pan-STARRS is the largest single research project at the Institute for Astronomy and consists of astronomical cameras, a telescope, and computing facility. It is meant to survey the skies to monitor objects, including asteroids and comets, that might pose a threat to Earth. It has also been observed by NASA’s NEOWISE spacecraft. At that time they confirmed the diameter of the asteroid and noticed that it was dark, and not very reflective.
As mentioned before, 2016 AJ193 will be visible to both professional and amateur astronomers. Those of us at home can take a look through an 8-inch, or larger, telescope to get a glimpse of the asteroid as it passes by. The professionals will use radar to observe the asteroid starting August 20th through 24th. Using radar will allow them to track its size, shape, and spin compared to telescope users just tracking its motion. The radar signals sent to asteroid 2016 AJ193 will be transmitted from Goldstone Antenna in California, along with small radars in Australia, Spain and Italy to get a full picture.
2016 AJ193 orbits the sun about every 6 years – 5.9 years to be exact. The orbit is highly elliptical, bringing it very close to Earth, then it travels out far beyond the orbit of Jupiter. This August 21st fly by will be the closest this asteroid will get to Earth for quite a long time.
So if you miss your chance to see 2016 AJ193 this Saturday you’ll have to mark your calendars for its next close pass by Earth – August 19th, 2080.