Airplane-size asteroid will have 'very close encounter' with Earth on Saturday — and you can watch it happen

 Diagram showing the orbits of Earth and the near-Earth asteroid 2024 BJ.
Diagram showing the orbits of Earth and the near-Earth asteroid 2024 BJ.

An asteroid discovered earlier this month will reach its closest point to Earth on tomorrow (Jan. 27), when it will soar through the sky at a distance closer to us than the moon.

You can watch the airplane-size asteroid as it sails just 220,000 miles (354,000 kilometers) from Earth — more than nine tenths of the average distance between our planet and the moon — on a Virtual Telescope Project live feed from 12:15 p.m. EST. The flying space rock will reach its closest point to Earth at 12:30 p.m. EST, according to NASA.

Astronomers first detected the up to 121-foot-wide (37 meters) asteroid, dubbed 2024 BJ, on Jan. 17. They documented their discovery the following day, after calculating that the rock will safely soar past our planet without incident.

The asteroid will fly close to the moon just before 9 a.m. EST before zooming past Earth three and a half hours later at an estimated speed of 14,200 mph (22,850 km/h). Although 2024 BJ will have a "very close encounter" with Earth, the rock poses "no risks at all for our planet," according to the Virtual Telescope Project.

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2024 BJ is a near-Earth asteroid of the Apollo type, which means its egg-shaped orbit crosses that of Earth to reach its closest point to the sun before turning around and extending out toward the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.


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Apollo asteroids, of which over 1,600 are currently known, make up the majority of the population of Earth-crossing and potentially hazardous asteroids. But fear not: 2024 BJ is nowhere near large enough to be considered hazardous. In fact, Earth appears to be safe from asteroids — at least from cataclysmic, "planet-killer" ones measuring more than 0.6 miles (1 km) across — for the next 1,000 years.

And if a currently unknown planet-killer should happen to sneak up on us — say, from the direction of the glaring sun — scientists already have a few plans for dealing with such an Earth-threatening catastrophe, including attempting to deflect the space rock with rockets, or possibly with nuclear weapons detonated in space. Hopefully, we'll never have to put such a mission to the test. 

Editor's note: This article was updated on Jan. 26 to include new information about the timing of the asteroid's approach.