If you have a nickname like “the Beast,” there are one of two things in play. It could be an ironic moniker, and you are in no way beastly at all—like when I make fun of my 14-pound dog after she tries to take down a pair really confused Great Danes on a walk around the neighborhood. Or, it’s entirely possible that you bear some of the features people normally associate with beastliness, like you’re huge, angry, and parents cross the street, clutching their children close to them, when they see you on the sidewalk. The asteroid set to buzz past Earth today, June 8, falls into this second category, and has definitely earned the nickname beast.
The Beast, also known by the much less lyrical name 2014 HQ124, is roughly the size of city block, and has been dubbed a potentially hazardous asteroid because of how close to our planet it will come. Before you sprint out the door to round up Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck in order to save the day, there isn’t really much to worry about. Though the asteroid will come close to our planet, close is a relative term. The flying space rock will still be more than 770,000 miles from us, which, if you’re doing the math, is more than triple the distance between the Earth and the moon. We should be just fine, but on the off chance that we all wake up dead tomorrow, know that someone, somewhere made a miscalculation.
According to experts, asteroids like this zip past Earth—I can’t help but think of Maverick and Goose buzzing the tower in Top Gun—once every few years. A team at NASA have actually calculated the Beast’s path through the year 2200, and there is apparently no danger that this particular rock will ever come back and blindside us, as least not while we, or any of our children, are alive to see it.
2014 HQ124 was first spotted in April by NASA’s NEOWISE, an infrared telescope that has been altered to hunt for asteroids, comets, and random flying space junk. Because it reflects light, we can tell a little bit about what it is made up of. Amy Mainzer, NEOWISE’s principal investigator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory says, “It’s likely that this object is rocky, rather than the dark, carbonaceous class of asteroids that are covered with extremely dark material…It’s also possible that it’s a metallic asteroid.”
Though this asteroid will be close, you won’t be able to see it, because, you know, it will still be more than three-quarters of a million miles away. Still, you can wave to it, maybe raise a toast, make it feel welcome, because though it may be a beast, that doesn’t mean the big guy doesn’t have feelings, too. Except that it’s a rock. So there’s that.