An asteroid larger than the Tour Eiffel and a little smaller thanEmpire State Building will visit Earth next week, December 11th.
Is called 4660 Nereus, and is a relatively frequent visitor to the vicinity of the Earth (which means it is well known) with a diameter of about 330 meters.
Despite the sensational headlines of the various tabloids, 4660 Nereus will pass at a safe distance of 3.93 million km, just over 10 times the distance between the Earth-Moon.
Due to its size and distance from Earth, 4660 Nereus is classified as a “potentially dangerous object“: This classification includes any asteroid that transits within 7.48 million km of Earth’s orbit and has a diameter greater than approximately 140 meters.
Many space stones fall into this category.
There are many reasons to monitor these objects, for example to rule out any deviations from their known orbits on a more dangerous trajectory to Earth, or to simply be aware of what is moving in our cosmic neighborhood.
4660 Nereus, first discovered in 1982, is special: not because it is dangerous, but because it whizzes near the Earth with a relative frequency. Its 1.82-year orbit around the Sun brings it close to us about every 10 years or so, although in spatial terms “near” still means “at a safe distance”.
For this reason it was considered a target for asteroid missions, such as Hayabusa (who eventually visited Itokawa instead).
It is also considered particularly interesting because it could be: a celestial body to be exploited for its mineral wealth, perhaps to be used for future bases on the Moon or Mars. According to Asterank, a database that monitors more than 600,000 asteroids, its value is $ 4.71 billion, which refers to the nickel, iron and cobalt it is thought to contain. Mining from asteroids is still considered a futuristic activity but it could take off now that big players like Blue Origin and SpaceX have entered the space sector.
The 4660 Nereus’ close pass next week will be the closest in decades. Its next close visit will be on February 14, 2060, when it will whiz at a distance of approximately 1.2 million km (over 3 times the Earth-Moon distance).