ScienceShot: Newfound Asteroid on Earth's Tail

Sid is a freelance science journalist.

Don't panic, but Earth has a celestial stalker. An asteroid discovered last fall moves in roughly the same orbit as Earth does. However, there's no need for a restraining order. Computer models indicate that for the foreseeable future, the object (denoted with an arrow in the photo) will stay at least 19 million kilometers away from our planet and, therefore, doesn't threaten a collision. Right now, the asteroid, dubbed 2010 SO16, is making one of its closest approaches to Earth, researchers at the Armagh Observatory in the United Kingdom report in April's Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Relative to Earth, the asteroid, which likely ranges between 200 meters and 400 meters across, moves in a horseshoe-shaped path that sometimes carries it to the far side of the sun. Simulations suggest that unlike the paths followed by three other known asteroids in such orbits, 2010 SO16's orbit has been stable for at least 250,000 years and will likely remain so for at least 200,000 years into the future.

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