Asteroid to pass by Earth in Feb.

Jan. 22 (UPI) — A half-mile-wide asteroid is scheduled to make a close pass by Earth next month.

According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, asteroid 2002 AJ129 will make its closest approach to Earth on Feb. 4 at 4:30 p.m. ET. The intermediate-sized space rock will fly within 2.6 million miles of Earth, roughly 10 times the distance between Earth and the moon.

The asteroid was first spotted in 2002 by the Near Earth Asteroid Tracking mission, a NASA-sponsored asteroid survey at the Maui Space Surveillance Site. Astronomers estimate the asteroid measures between 0.3 and 0.75 miles across.

When it passes by Earth next month, the asteroid will be traveling 76,000 miles per hour. As the space rock’s highly elliptical orbit sees it slingshot around the sun, the asteroid accelerates to especially high speeds.

NASA has classified the object as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid, but the rock won’t pose a serious threat to the planet anytime soon.

“We have been tracking this asteroid for over 14 years and know its orbit very accurately,” Paul Chodas, manager of JPL’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, said in a news release. “Our calculations indicate that asteroid 2002 AJ129 has no chance — zero — of colliding with Earth on Feb. 4 or any time over the next 100 years.”

Each time asteroids make a close pass by Earth, however, it offers scientists a chance to perfect their orbital models and improve their predictions of the asteroid’s path in the future.

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