asteroid Vesta
Views of asteroid Vesta recorded in 2007. Image: Undertow851/Flickr/CC BY

An bus-sized asteroid will streak over the Atlantic Ocean Monday morning, coming within 7,500 miles of the Earth’s surface. That is closer to our planet than the moon, making the event the fifth closest near-miss in recorded history.

The asteroid, called 2011 MD, is estimated at about 10 meters in length, around the size of a large bus or semi-truck. The object will zoom over the Atlantic at about 1:15 p.m. EDT. It will be observable by some small telescopes, due to its size and close passage.

We are in no danger, scientists say

Although 2011 MD’s trajectory is close in astronomical terms, scientists claim there is no danger of collision. In February 2011, asteroid 2011 CQ1 came within 3,405 miles of Earth without incident. Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., assured those concerned via its Asteroid Watch Twitter feed that their eyes are on the skies:

“Scientists will use the close pass as an opportunity to study it with radar observations… Stony asteroids of less than 25 meters will break up in Earth’s atmosphere and not cause ground damage.”

LINEAR dedicated to asteroid detection

The asteroid 2011 MD was discovered on June 22 by LINEAR, a pair of robotic telescopes located in New Mexico. The devices are dedicated to searching for asteroids that approach Earth.

Near-misses more common than once thought

Asteroids are small objects of minerals and ice which orbit the sun. The larger ones are often called planetoids. The vast majority of asteroids found in our solar system orbit between Jupiter and Mars. At one time, it was believed that passing asteroids were a rare occurrence. However, better detection methods have taught scientists that such incidents are much more common than once thought.

There are nearly 8,100 Near-Earth objects on record. Approximately 1,236 of them have been large enough and close enough to have been classified as Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs).

NASA shoots for asteroids

In the wake of NASA’s scrubbed shuttle program, the organization has announced its intention demolition to an asteroid as its next challenge. That mission, planned for 2020, will target asteroid 1999 RQ36, which has a 1 in 1,800 chance of striking the earth by 2170.

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