NASA has been monitoring the asteroid 4660 Nereus since the early 1980s, looking after its every move because of its close proximity to Earth. Come December 11th, the asteroid will pass by the planet the closest it’s been in the past 20 years. While Nereus will still be roughly 2.4 million miles from us–or roughly 10 times the distance between the Earth and our moon–the space agency is still classifying the asteroid as a “potentially hazardous” Near-Earth Object (NEO) due to its size.
The behemoth is over 492 feet wide and some 1,082 feet long, roughly the size of France’s Eiffel Tower. If all goes as planned, Nereus will scream by the planet at a whopping 14,700 miles an hour.
According to the Asterank asteroid database, Nereus could contain billions of dollars worth of nickel, iron, and cobalt. Because of its close proximity to Earth, researchers also suggest it could be a prime candidate for space mining someday.
NASA official describes NEOs as “comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighborhood. Composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles, comets originally formed in the cold outer planetary system while most of the rocky asteroids formed in the warmer inner solar system between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.”
Interestingly enough, Nereus’ will pass Earth just weeks after NASA launched its first-ever planetary defense mission. On November 25th, the agency launched the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) into space, hoping to change the directory of an asteroid named Dimorphos.
“The DART Investigation Team will compare the results of DART’s kinetic impact with Dimorphos to highly detailed computer simulations of kinetic impacts on asteroids,” NASA’s website explains. “Doing so will evaluate the effectiveness of this mitigation approach and assess how best to apply it to future planetary defense scenarios, as well as how accurate the computer simulations are and how well they reflect the behavior of a real asteroid.”
Cover photo by Adrian Mann/Future Publishing via Getty Images
from Ultimate Comic Blog