NASA says an asteroid the size of a box truck will fly by, very close to, the Earth Thursday. They report that it is one of the closest passes of an object ever recorded. It will be closer to the Earth than certain satellites orbiting our planet. The asteroid is called 2023 BU and was just discovered this past Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.

When will the asteroid 2023 BU fly by the Earth and how close will it be to Earth?

NASA reports the fly-by will happen Thursday, Jan. 26 at 7:27 p.m. The fly-by location will occur directly over the southern tip of South America. The pass will be so close that it is within the orbit of geosynchronous satellites. NASA says 2023 BU will fly by at a distance of just 2,200 miles above Earth’s surface.

For some perspective, the average distance between the Earth and the Moon is roughly 239,000 miles. A geosynchronous satellite typically orbits roughly 22,000 miles above the surface of the Earth.

NASA rendering showing 2023 BU’s trajectory, in red, during its close approach with Earth on Jan. 26, 2023. NASA reports the asteroid will pass about 10 times closer to Earth than the orbit of geosynchronous satellites, shown in green.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

How big is 2023 BU and does 2023 BU pose any danger to Earth?

Because it was just discovered nearly a week ago, data on the object is limited. NASA estimates it to be between 11.5 to 28 feet across. They say it is estimated to be similar in size to the dimensions of a box truck. There is no need to panic. In its current orbit, they say there is no risk of it impacting Earth.

Even if it were on a direct intercept path, the size would result in the asteroid mainly burning up. NASA says it would become a fireball meteor, blazing across the sky, with only small meteorites likely to reach the surface.

Another rendering showing the close pass from NASA’s Solar System Dynamics Small-body Database lookup, a division of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Credits: NASA/JPL

Will there be any impacts on the orbit of 2023 BU?

NASA reports that the gravitational pull of the Earth will have impacts on the asteroid’s orbit trajectory. Data shows that the asteroid’s orbit would take 359 days to orbit the Sun before the close pass by Earth. NASA says the close fly-by will elongate the orbit path and result in it taking 425 days to complete one orbit after it passes by our planet.

NASA rendering showing the deflection of asteroid 2023 BU’s trajectory in red, caused by Earth’s gravitational pull. The orbit of geosynchronous satellites is shown in green, and the orbit of the Moon is depicted by the gray oval.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Can you watch asteroid 2023 BU pass by the Earth?

A European telescope organization, known as the Virtual Telescope Project, plans to turn robotic telescopes toward the path of 2023 BU. Their success depends on visibility, which can be hindered by cloud cover. If they can get a clear view, they plan to live stream what they can see on the Virtual Telescope Project Youtube page.

Are there any other asteroids passing by close to the Earth?

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory lists close fly-bys of asteroids in increments of the next five closest. None of the next five will be as close as Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023’s pass of asteroid 2023 BU. These are the next five asteroid passes.

  1. Asteroid: 2023 BL2 – Size: Car-sized, 19 ft. across – Closest Pass: 230,000mi. – Date of closest pass: January 26th, 2023
  2. Asteroid: 2020 BZ14 – Size: Airplane-sized, 170 ft. across – Closest Pass: 2,100,000mi. – Date of closest pass: January 26th, 2023
  3. Asteroid: 2023 BU (Second pass) – Size: Car-sized, 11-28 ft. across – Closest Pass: 6,190mi. – Date of closest pass: January 27th, 2023
  4. Asteroid: 2023 BT3 – Size: Car-sized, 13 ft. across – Closest Pass: 360,000mi. – Date of closest pass: January 27th, 2023
  5. Asteroid: 2023 BC – Size: Airplane-sized, 120 ft. across – Closest Pass: 1,760,000mi. – Date of closest pass: January 28th, 2023

You can keep tabs on asteroids and how close they fly by the Earth on the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Asteroid Watch page.