Asteroid The Size Of A Bus Will Pass Closer To Earth Than Some Satellites Today
An asteroid the size of a bus is set to hurtle past the Earth at close range later today, NASA scientists have reported.
13,000 miles above the Earth’s surface may seem like a pretty safe distance, but the rock, which has been named 2020 SW, will actually be closer to our planet than both the Moon and GPS satellites, in what is – in space terms – a relatively close shave.
No need to worry though; astronomers have ruled out any chance of the asteroid crashing into the Earth. NASA confirmed, ‘Although it’s not on an impact trajectory with Earth, if it were, the space rock would almost certainly break up high in the atmosphere, becoming a bright meteor known as a fireball.’
Scientists working at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona who monitor the size, speed and trajectory of nearby asteroids, first discovered 2020 SW on September 18. They estimate that the rock measures about five to 10 metres wide – ‘the size of a small school bus’.
Unfortunately, the asteroid won’t be visible to the naked eye when it passes by early at 7.15am EST (12.15pm GMT), but NASA says that budding astronomers may be able to catch a glimpse through their telescopes.
For the rest of us, the asteroid’s fly-by will be livestreamed in a broadcast from the Virtual Telescope Project. This is the first asteroid to pass the Earth at close range since the – rather worryingly named – ‘Potentially Hazardous Asteroid 2020 QL2’, which was reportedly the size of the London Eye.
Speaking to Sky News, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director Paul Chodas explained that smaller asteroids like 2020 SW are actually relatively common:
There are a large number of tiny asteroids like this one, and several of them approach our planet as close as this several times every year. In fact, asteroids of this size impact our atmosphere at an average rate of about once every year or two.
Although smaller asteroids are harder to detect, they pose little to no threat to us on Earth, while larger, potentially damaging ones, are far easier for NASA to monitor.
That’s not to say they don’t make mistakes, though. In August, it was reported that an asteroid the size of a car set the record for passing at the closest distance to Earth ever measured, and NASA was forced to admit that it did not detect it until after it had flown by. Confirming the event, Mr Chodas said, ‘We didn’t see it coming.’
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