Asteroid 2014 HQ 124, aka “The Beast”, is a gridiron stadium-sized behemoth, estimated at nearly 400m wide. And tomorrow, it’s going to come perilously close to our beloved home planet. How close? Just a mere 1.25 million kilometres away. In space terms, that’s about as close as it gets.
Thankfully, NASA is fully certain we’ll avoid an impact when The Beast does its flyby tomorrow. “There is zero chance of an impact,” said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “In fact, it’s fairly common for asteroids to pass near Earth. You’d expect an object about the size of 2014 HQ124 to pass this close every few years.”
Still, that baby’s cruising at a cool 49,889km/h. That speed, combined with The Beast’s massiveness, would lead to some serious devastation if it made contact. Asteroid impact expert Mark Boslough, of Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, said during a Slooh Community Observatory webcast, “this one would definitely be catastrophic if it hit the Earth. If it hit a city, it would definitely wipe out an entire metropolitan area.”
Boslough estimated The Beast’s impact would pack the power of a 2000-megaton explosion — for reference, that’s more than 100,000 times stronger than the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima. Thankfully, if The Beast was actually destined for impact, we would know by now: the asteroid was detected on 23 April and once such a body has been found, scientists can predict its path with unbelievable accuracy.
“Once it’s within radar distance, the precision is remarkably good on its position and speed,” Boslough said. “So the folks at JPL would be able to predict its impact point to within the nearest kilometer and its time to within the nearest second.”