Sunday, 31 August 2014

Asteroid 2013 QD33 passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2014 QD33 passed by the Earth at a distance of 5 515 000 km (14.35 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 3.7% of the average distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly before 6.45 am GMT on Wednesday 27 August 2014. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though had it done so it would have presented only a minor threat. 2014 QD33 has an estimated equivalent diameter of 20-62 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 20-62 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be expected to break up in the atmosphere between 22 and 7 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface, though an object towards the upper end of this range would be likely to explode in the atmosphere with the energy of about 10 megatons of TNT, so being directly underneath it would probably be fairly unpleasant.

The calculated orbit of 2014 QD33. JPL Small Body Database Browser.

2014 QD33 was discovered on 20 August 2014 (seven days before its closest approach to the Earth) by the University of Hawaii's PANSTARRS telescope on Mount Haleakala on Maui. The designation 2014 QD33 implies that it was the 829th asteroid (asteroid D33) discovered in the second half of August 2014 (period 2014 Q).

2014 QD33 has a 657 day year orbital period and an eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 3.1° to the plane of the Solar System, which takes it from 0.81 AU from the Sun (i.e. 81% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) to 2.14 AU from the Sun (i.e. 214% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, considerably more than the distance at which the planet Mars orbits the Sun). It is therefore classed as an Apollo Group Asteroid (an asteroid that is on average further from the Sun than the Earth, but which does get closer). This means that close encounters between 2014 QD33 and the Earth are fairly common, with the next one predicted for December 2066.

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