Snapshot: A ‘lost’ asteroid will zip between the Earth and the Moon tonight

By | Published: May 15, 2018 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Getty Images/Dieter Spannknebel
First off, remember the simple yet immortal words of Douglas Adams from his book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — “Don’t panic.”

But with that being said, there is an asteroid roughly the size of the Statue of Liberty that will pass uncomfortably close to the Earth tonight at around 6:05 p.m. EDT. The asteroid will pass at about half the Moon’s distance while travelling at nearly 13 kilometers per second (about 30,000 miles per hour). Although there is no risk of the rocky passerby colliding with either the Earth or the Moon, according to EarthSky, this is one of the closest approaches ever observed for an asteroid of this size.

The asteroid, which has the catchy name Asteroid 2010 WC9, is estimated to have a diameter between about 175 and 400 feet (50 to 120 meters) and was first discovered eight years ago by the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona. However, just weeks after its initial discovery, astronomers lost track of it.
Because of this, Asteroid 2010 WC9 was able to covertly drift through space for almost eight years until astronomers finally detected it again last week. When they did, they calculated its orbital trajectory (which they were unable to do previously), ultimately determining that it will pass within about 130,000 miles of Earth — or half the distance between Earth and the Moon.

The orbital path of Asteroid 2010 WC9 (white line) nearly intersects with that of Earth (blue line) tonight just after 6 p.m. EDT.