Asteroids are constantly flying close to Earth at safe distances, but sometimes the headlines about them get hot enough to grab my attention. Asteroid 4660 Nereus is about to visit our cosmic neighborhood, making a close pass on December 11. But everything is fine. Be sure to wave to him when he passes safely.
The egg-shaped asteroid will give us a respectful breath of 2.4 million miles (3.9 million kilometers). It’s estimated to be as wide as the Eiffel Tower is tall, so it’s a big ‘one for sure. The flyby of 2021 is of no concern. In fact, it will come much closer in 2060, when NASA estimates it will be within 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) of our planet.
Nereus is perhaps attracting more attention as it is classified as “potentially dangerous” due to its size and orbital path. Many asteroids qualify as potentially dangerous. A NASA survey in 2012 predicted that there could be 4,700 such asteroids.
We know about 4660 Nereus since 1982. NASA had called it “a prime candidate for exploration by spacecraft”.
Explore the asteroid Ryugu with the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2
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I do not reject the threat of asteroids on Earth. They hit the planet in the past and will likely return to us. But scientists have gotten pretty good at spotting and tracking space objects, and NASA just launched a proactive planetary defense mission with DART. DART will test the idea that a spacecraft could crash into an asteroid and push it off a dangerous path.
You can rest easy on December 11 knowing that Nereus will be far away, just another asteroid on the lost (space) highway.