On March 26th, a large asteroid named 2023 DZ2 will safely pass between Earth and the Moon, an event that occurs only once a decade. This asteroid is estimated to be between 40 and 70 meters wide, equivalent to the size of the Parthenon, and could destroy a large city if it hit our planet. The European Space Agency’s Planetary Defense Office has been monitoring the asteroid’s movement and says it will pass at a distance of 175,000 kilometers from Earth, which is close but poses no danger. Small asteroids pass by Earth daily, but an asteroid of this size coming so close only happens once every 10 years.
The International Asteroid Warning Network has decided to take advantage of this close approach and will carry out a “rapid characterization” of the asteroid. Astronomers around the world will use a range of instruments, such as spectrometers and radars, to analyze the asteroid, with the goal of learning as much as possible about it in a week. This will serve as a training exercise for how the network would react to a potential asteroid threat in the future.
Richard Moissl, the head of the ESA’s Planetary Defense Office, said that preliminary data suggests 2023 DZ2 is “a scientifically interesting object,” indicating it could be an unusual type of asteroid. However, more data is needed to determine its composition. The asteroid will swing past Earth again in 2026, but its trajectory has been calculated to pose no threat of impact for at least the next 100 years.
Earlier this month, another similarly sized asteroid, 2023 DW, was briefly given a one-in-432 chance of hitting Earth on Valentine’s Day in 2046. However, further calculations ruled out any chance of impact, which is typical with newly discovered asteroids. Moissl said that 2023 DW is now expected to miss Earth by approximately 4.3 million kilometers.
NASA’s DART spacecraft conducted the first test of our planetary defenses last year by deliberately slamming into the pyramid-sized asteroid Dimorphos, significantly altering its course. Even if an asteroid is determined to be heading toward Earth, our planet is no longer defenseless.