Massive 'potentially hazardous' asteroid spotted before safe flyby of Earth today (Nov. 1)

streaking stars with an arrow in the middle that shows a small dot in the middle
The potentially hazardous asteroid 2022 RM4 was imaged on Oct. 31, 2022. (Image credit: Virtual Telescope Project)

A space rock is streaking through the sky in fresh imagery captured just before the asteroid makes a safe flyby of Earth.

The Virtual Telescope Project imaged the skyscraper-size asteroid 2022 RM4 in space when it was just over 1.9 million miles (3.1 million km) from our planet on Oct. 31, ahead of an expected live broadcast (opens in new tab) today (Nov. 1) at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT). 

The asteroid poses no threat to our planet and will make a safe flyby at 2:26 p.m. EDT (18:26 GMT) at six times the equivalent distance to the moon.

"The picture above comes from a single 120-second exposure," wrote (opens in new tab) project founder Gianluca Masi about the photo, which was captured using a PlaneWave 17-inch telescope. Since the telescope was capturing the motion of the asteroid against the background stars, he explained, the stars appear as streaks so that the space rock is imaged as a sharp point in space.

Related: A skyscraper-sized 'potentially hazardous' asteroid will zip through Earth's orbit on Halloween 

The closest approach by 2022 RM4 will see the asteroid come within 1.43 million miles (2.3 million kilometers) of Earth. That's far away in human terms, but by the size of the universe it is rather small. 

With a diameter of somewhere between 1,083 and 2,428 feet (330 and 740 meters), the asteroid is just under the equivalent height of Dubai's 2,716-foot-tall (828 m) Burj Khalifa, which is the tallest building in the world. 

NASA assigns the term "potentially hazardous" to any asteroid coming within 4.65 million miles (7.5 million km) of our planet. It's not a term for worry, but more for study; tagging such space rocks means they are more closely examined by astronomers to keep an eye on their orbits. 

Sunlight and gravity can push around asteroids and over time, greatly change their path through space. That said, none of the tens of thousands of asteroids tracked by the agency pose a threat in the next 100 years, although the search continues as a precaution.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab)Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace