Bus-size asteroid to zoom by Earth, ducking below satellites

James Marshall
September 24, 2020

The closest asteroid to pass by Earth in a year is set to fly by on Thursday - but don't worry, it will safely pass us. However, if 2020 SW were to hit Earth, it would likely break up high in the atmosphere and become a 'fireball', according to NASA.

In a first, an asteroid will get extremely close to the Earth on September 24 when it moves past by our planet even closer than the Moon orbits the Earth.

"In fact, asteroids of this size impact our atmosphere at an average rate of about once every year or two", the United States space agency said in a statement.

"I suspect this newly discovered object 2020 SO to be an old rocket booster because it is following an orbit about the Sun that is extremely similar to Earth's, almost circular, in the same plane, and only slightly farther away (than) the Sun at its farthest point", Dr. Paul Chodas, the director of NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies, told CNN. The closest approach will occur Thursday morning over the southeastern Pacific Ocean.

As per the calculations, the Moon orbits the Earth at an average distance of 2,38,900 miles (3,84,000 km) or about 30 Earths, while the asteroid 2020 SW will whizz past the Earth at a distance of about 2.1 Earths.

Asteroid 2020 SW, as it is known, was discovered last Friday by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

"Potentially hazardous" NEOs are defined as space objects that come within 0.05 astronomical units (4.6 million miles) and measure more than 460 feet in diameter, according to NASA. "It's unlikely that an asteroid could have evolved into an orbit like this, but not impossible". These larger asteroids pose a much greater threat if they were to impact, and they can be detected much farther away from Earth, because they're simply much brighter than the small ones.

A division of Caltech in Pasadena, JPL hosts CNEOS for NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program in NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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