Asteroid May Collide With Earth With Force Of 12-Megaton Bomb, Wyoming Astronomer Says

You might want to hold off on making plans for Valentine’s Day – in 2046. University of Wyoming astronomy professor Daniel Dale says NASA is studying an asteroid that could slam into Earth and would the impact would create an explosion similar to a 12-megaton bomb.

Wendy Corr

March 18, 20233 min read

Asteroid 2023 DW

You might want to hold off on making plans for Valentine’s Day – in 2046.

That’s the projected day asteroid 2023 DW, which was discovered Feb. 26, may cross paths with Earth. The object, estimated to be about 164-feet in diameter, has a 1-in-607 chance of crashing into our planet. 

And while the impact of a 50-meter-wide rock might not be considered an ELE (extinction-level event, for those who haven’t seen the 1998 movie “Deep Impact”), a collision could still create a disaster zone over 800 square miles. 

“An interesting comparison is the Tunguska Event in Siberia in 1908,” said Daniel Dale, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Wyoming. “The object responsible for the Tunguska Event was estimated to be 50-80 meters in diameter, similar to the estimates of the size of this object. 

“The event laid waste to 80 million trees over 2,150 square kilometers,” Dale said.

That’s equivalent to about a 12-megaton bomb. By comparison, Little Boy, the first atomic bomb dropped on Japan on Aug. 6, 1945, was 15 kilotons.

Possible impact path for asteroid DW 2023, anticipated to hit the Earth on Feb. 14, 2046.

Discovering Asteroids

Dale said scientists spot these objects in surveys that repeatedly scan the night sky.

“Any object that appears to move with respect to the background field of stars in the Milky Way is a candidate for an asteroid,” Dale told Cowboy State Daily.

“The trajectory is computed based on tracking the movement over a series of observations. With an estimate of the trajectory and speed, one can extrapolate forward in time its future path,” he said.

The European Space Agency reported asteroid’s discovery, and the celestial object has been added to the top of the agency’s “Risk List,” which tracks objects that could potentially impact Earth.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the world ends Feb. 14, 2046. 

Torino Scale

2023 DW is ranked on the Torino Scale, which assesses the seriousness of collision predictions, as a level 1, which means the asteroid poses “no unusual level of danger.” 

For reference, there 10 ten levels on the Torino Scale, with a 10 capable of causing global climatic catastrophe that “may threaten the future of life as we know it,” according to the scale. But level 10 events only happen once every 250,000 years or so.

2023 DW is the only asteroid on the European Space Agency’s Risk List that has a ranking of 1. There are 1,448 other asteroids on the list, each ranking 0.

So, while not deemed much of a danger, it remains the most dangerous asteroid on a potential collision course with the planet that we know of.

Impact Zone

Italian astronomer Piero Sicoli mapped out the possible impact zone, which lies somewhere between the Indian Ocean and the east coast of the United States.

“With just 3 days of arc, I found about 1 in 400 chance of impact on Feb. 14, 2046,” Sicoli tweeted.

NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office reported that the risk of 2023 DW impacting the planet in 2046 remains “very small,” noting that when new objects are first discovered, it takes weeks of observations to refine the official predictions.

“Orbit analysts will continue to monitor asteroid 2023 DW and update predictions as more data comes in,” the office tweeted. 

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Wendy Corr

Features Reporter