Asteroid worth 4 billion is entering Earth’s orbit

Her nickel, iron and cobalt deposits are estimated to be worth billions. A giant "potentially dangerous" space rock is approaching our planet.

A giant "potentially dangerous" space rock larger than the Eiffel Tower will enter Earth's orbit next week. That's what Nasa has released. It is the egg-shaped asteroid, called 4660 Nereus that will break into Earth's orbit traveling at 23,700 km/h on Saturday, December 11. It is expected that the object will pass the Earth at some distance without hitting it, but still the encounter will be the closest in the last 20 years. Another feature of Nereus is that its nickel, iron and cobalt deposits would be very attractive for potential space mines and would have an estimated value of just over 4 billion euros.

The asteroid in Earth's orbit

Nereus, which is roughly 330 meters long, will be about 3.86 million km away, 10 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. While that may seem like a huge gap, by cosmic standards, it's actually "just a stone's throw away." Nasa marks any space object within 193 million kilometers of our planet as a "near-Earth object" and any fast-moving object within 7.5 million kilometers as "potentially hazardous." Once flagged, astronomers closely monitor the objects, looking for any deviation from their predicted trajectory that could put them on a collision course with the globe.

Nereus, the 4-billion asteroid

The asteroid under observation was first discovered in 1982. Nereus' 1.82-year sun orbit brings it close to Earth nearly every 10 years. Because it visits our orbit fairly frequently, Nasa and Japan's Jaxa space agency had even considered collecting a sample of the space rock using Jaxa's Hayabusa spacecraft, but in the end the agencies preferred to target a different asteroid, 25143 Itokawa.

Nasa expects Nereus to return close to Earth on March 2, 2031, and in November 2050. An even closer and more tantalizing visit could occur on Feb. 14, 2060, when Nereus could come within about 1.2 million miles of our planet. In addition to being a target for a possible mission from Nasa, Nereus is interesting for its potential as a space mine. Asterank, a database that monitors more than 600,000 asteroids, estimates that the asteroid has deposits of nickel, iron and cobalt for a total value of $ 4.71 billion, which is roughly equivalent to 4.16 billion euros.

In the meantime, Nasa has also launched a satellite with the aim of hitting an asteroid to find a way to deflect potentially dangerous space rocks. Recently, however, an asteroid narrowly missed Earth, but no one knew it was coming.

Stefania Bernardini