Last September, NASA slammed a spacecraft into an asteroid as part of a breathtaking mission to determine whether manmade projectiles could be used to throw the fast-flying bodies off course. Image courtesy of NASA
March 10 (UPI) -- An asteroid about the size of an Olympic swimming pool has a "very small chance" of smashing into Earth when the giant space rock streaks through the solar system in 23 years.
Scientists expect the giant rock to hurtle into Earth's path on Feb. 14, 2046, in what will most likely be a close encounter rather than a direct impact.
The asteroid was discovered Feb. 26 by astronomers at an observatory in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, who named the careening body 2023 DW. The rock has a foreboding diameter of 160 feet -- or around the width of a football field.
The body is being monitored as a collision risk by NASA and the European Space Agency, although at least one of the agencies has so far estimated the body was likely to miss Earth by more than 1.1 million miles.
The exact trajectory of the asteroid will come more into focus in the months ahead.
"Often when new objects are first discovered, it takes several weeks of data to reduce the uncertainties and adequately predict their orbits years into the future," NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office said in a tweet.
The Torino Scale, which is used by NASA to evaluate risks from space, currently lists the asteroid as a level 1 threat, which indicates "a routine discovery in which a pass near the Earth is predicted that poses no unusual level of danger," according to NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies.
"Current calculations show the chance of collision is extremely unlikely with no cause for public attention or public concern. New telescopic observations very likely will lead to re-assignment to Level 0."
By comparison, a level 10 threat would warn of the potential for a global calamity.
NASA said the asteroid at its current size would not cause massive destruction if it did hit the planet, and that damage would be limited to the immediate area of impact.
The nation's space agency is currently developing sci-fi inspired technology to protect the Earth from a possible apocalyptic space collision. For the first time last September, NASA slammed a spacecraft into an asteroid as part of a breathtaking mission to determine whether manmade projectiles could be used to throw the fast-flying bodies off course.