This page describes the limits placed on the Near Earth Objects close-approach tables and discusses the uncertainties in those data.
Perhaps the most important issue to remember when interpreting our NEO close-approach tables is the inherent uncertainty in each NEO orbit. This uncertainty is related to several parameters used in the orbit determination process including the number of observations (measurements), the time spanned by those observations (data arc), the quality of the observations (e.g. radar vs optical), and the geometry of the observations. Of these parameters, the time spanned by the observations generally has the greatest effect on orbital uncertainty.
Even though NEO orbits are uncertain, it is possible to estimate the size of these uncertainties and place corresponding limits on close-approach distance and time. For example, we provide a nominal distance, and minimum distance (the minimum distance between the 3-sigma Earth target-plane error ellipse and the Earth’s surface).
We also note that Earth close-approach statistics for a given NEO can change (often by large amounts) as new data become available and the orbit is updated.
In an effort to include only close-approach data that are reasonably well determined and for which the uncertainties are not overly large, the data presented in our NEO close-approach tables are selected using the following conservative limits. Specifically:
Although these limits could be refined, they are sufficiently conservative to exclude any highly uncertain Earth close-approaches.