The Monstrous Double Asteroid will Sail Across the Earth Later this Week

A rendering of a binary asteroid system                  European Space Agency

A almost mile-wide asteroid that has its own moon is expected to fly safely by Earth on Saturday. That's more than a dozen times the distance between the Earth and the moon in its orbit around our planet, and much too far for the space rocks to pose any threat.

Besides the much larger primary body, tagging along for the ride is a small moon, the secondary body, about a third of a mile wide that together with the main body orbits a shared center of gravity.

The flyby will be visible starting May 24 and last until May 27. For context, this figure is about 13.5 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.

The asteroid with the number 66391 (also known as 1999 KW4) is what is known as a Near Earth Asteroid because its orbit around the Sun takes it close to Earth's orbit. Because it carries a large moon along with it, the asteroid is technically designated as a binary system.

'This ridge gives the primary an appearance similar to a walnut or a spinning top. This will be the closest that a binary system has ever approached Earth.

The asteroid will be "the target of an extensive observing campaign" supported by NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination office, the agency said.

"1999 KW4 approaches within 0.05 AU of Earth several times each century", NASA's report on the object said. Meanwhile, there will be two visitors to Earth from space.

Though the asteroid will undoubtedly be hard to spot, there are some amateur astronomers who will take initiative and attempt to locate it as it passes by Earth.

NASA ambassador Eddie Irizarry of the Astronomical Society of the Caribbean confirmed the asteroid will not be visible to the naked eye, but encourages amateur astronomers to try to spot it as it passes Earth. "In fact, there are almost 2,000 "PHA's" (Potentially Hazardous Asteroids) that have a potential of colliding with Earth, and 1999 KW4 is one of them".

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