A new asteroid is heading our way. This is what you should know End-shutdown

C.Chances are, you haven’t made your Valentine’s Day 2046 plans yet. But in case you are, you might want to make sure you spend the day indoors. That, at least, is the take-home message from NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Officethat earlier this week the alarm sounded via Twitter that in just under 23 years, a newly discovered asteroid called 2023 DW, measuring 50 m (165 ft) across, or about the size of an Olympic swimming pool, will pass close to Earth with a 1 in 560 chance of collide with us

That doesn’t sound like a lot, but 23 years is a long time for the rock to change its course, and since it was only first seen on February 27, astronomers have many additional observations to make before they can be sure of its future trajectory. .

“Often when new objects are first discovered, several weeks of data are needed to reduce uncertainties and adequately predict their orbits in the future,” NASA’s tweet read in part. “Orbit analysts will continue to monitor asteroid 2023 DW and update predictions as more data comes in.”

Warnings about 2023 DW are flooding news sites today—including, well, this one. So how worried should you be?

To begin with, you have to consider the size of 2023 DW, which is not that big, but not that small either. It’s nowhere near the 7.5-mile-wide (12 km) asteroid, more than half the length of Manhattan, that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. That’s the good news. The bad news is that a swimming pool-sized piece of space debris can still do a lot of damage. In February 15, 2013a shell about half the size of 2023 DW exploded in the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia, injuring 1,500 people and damaging more than 7,000 buildings.

NASA calculates the risk of a near-Earth object colliding with Earth in something known as the Layover Turin, a rating from zero to 10 of the probability of impact, where zero represents no hazard or a risk “so low as to be zero”. Five on the scale indicates “A close encounter that presents a serious, but as yet uncertain, risk of regional devastation.” Ten, which the dinosaurs might tell you about if they weren’t all dead, indicates that “a collision is certain, capable of causing a global climate catastrophe that may threaten the future of civilization as we know it.”

So where does 2023 DW rank? for now, NASA puts it in one, indicating “a routine discovery predicting a near-Earth pass that does not represent an unusual level of danger.” For now, that pass near Earth will not be closer than 7.5 million kilometers (4.65 million miles), according to NASA. eyes on asteroids place. That’s 18 times farther than Earth’s moon.

But the distance of 2023 DW could change, as NASA itself admits, as more observations of the space rock are made and its trajectory is calculated with greater precision. Also, February 14, 2046 won’t be the only time 2023 DW passes our way. The asteroid will make nine more potentially close passes from February 15, 2047 to February 14, 2054.

None of this is cause for serious alarm. Rather, this is all cause for celebration of the success of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which successfully crashed a small spacecraft into the small moon of the asteroid Dimorphos last September, to see how much it could change the speed of its orbit around its parent asteroid Didymos. The mission, which was a first test of the type of asteroid deflection defense that could be used to protect Earth from an incoming space rock, worked spectacularly. For it to be considered a success, mission planners determined that Dimorphos’ orbit would have to be sped up by at least 73 seconds. The actual acceleration? Thirty two minutes.

“This mission shows that NASA is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said when the results were released. “NASA has shown that we are serious as defenders of the planet.”

No one believes that a DART-like mission will be necessary to protect Earth after 2023 DW, at least not yet. But other cosmic artifacts lurk, and other defense systems must remain in the works. The solar system has always been a shooting gallery, and Earth will always be at risk of ending up in the crosshairs.

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write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com.

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