Astrophysicist urges calm as 1,000-foot asteroid heads for Earth’s orbit

They've considered 'punching' it off course.

NASA has issued a warning about a ‘potentially hazardous’ 1,082-foot rock on its way to Earth.


Astronomer Eleanor Helin first spotted Asteroid Nereus in 1982. It's due to come within 4.6 million miles of our planet on December 11.


A leading space scientist from Leicester says there is no need to panic about the giant asteroid bigger than the Eiffel Tower passing across Earth’s orbit.


Asteroid 4660 Nereus will fly past the planet at 14,700 miles per hour and will be the equivalent of 10 times the distance between the Moon and Earth away. Scientists say that's as close as near-Earth asteroids go.


However, Professor Martin Barstow says there is nothing to worry about.


Martin, Professor of Astrophysics and Space Science at the University of Leicester Director of Strategic Partnerships at Space Park Leicester said: “Collectively asteroids do pose a potential threat, as the dinosaurs found out 63 million years ago.


Professor Martin Barstow
Professor Martin Barstow

"Scientists are interested in groups of asteroids for this reason and it is vital that we track them, because one day we might find one that could cause a problem, although that prospect is unlikely.”


Fast-moving objects in space that come within 4.65 million miles are considered to be ‘potentially hazardous’, with one small change to their trajectory potentially leading to disaster for Earth.


NASA considers anything passing within 120million miles of Earth a Near-Earth Object (NEO), with thousands tracked by scientists to monitor whether they're on a collision course with our planet.


As the astroid passes by Earth fairly frequently, NASA and the Japanese space agency (JAXA) have previously considered 'punching' it off course.


Professor Barstow, who is the Chair of the UK Space Agency Science Programme Advisory Committee as well as the Space Telescope Institute Council, added: “The things that we are really scared about are the things we don’t yet know anything about.


"That’s why we have initiatives to search space to find these objects and the Double Asteroid Redirect Mission to help protect us in the event that one might collide with Earth.


“As part of this mission, last month NASA launched a spacecraft the size of a refrigerator, sending it on a crash course with an asteroid in 2022.


"This intentional self-destruction will tell us if slamming a spacecraft into an asteroid is enough to save Earth in the future if a massive space rock is headed our way.”

Written by Kerry Smith.

Kerry is editor of Cross Production's Niche Magazine in Leicester and has a degree in film and journalism. She writes about business news, entertainment, and local people.