Asteroid 2020 SW will safely barrel past our planet this Thursday, astronomers at NASA have announced. The small space rock will briefly visit Earth’s neighbourhood in the coming hours, the US space agency said. This event is of particular interest because the asteroid will blast past the blue planet at only 13,000 miles (22,00km) distance.
Although this might actually seem a long way, it is actually highly unusual for an asteroid to make such a close approach.
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
Dr Paul Chodas
The range will in fact encroach below the ring of geostationary satellites in orbit approximately 22,000 miles (36,000km) from Earth.
NASA is able to inform the public a great deal about 2020 SM based only on the asteroid’s brightness.
The asteroid is now known to be roughly 15 to 30ft (5 to 10m) in diameter, equating to the size of “school bus”, the space agency said.
To prevent any panic, NASA are at pains to point out the rock is not heading for Earth and instead pass our planet safely.
In fact, even if the asteroid were on an impact trajectory with the planet, the space rock would certainly incinerate in the atmosphere.
This would result in the cosmic debris becoming a bright meteor commonly called a fireball.
Dr Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, said in a statement: “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.
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“In fact, asteroids of this size impact our atmosphere at an average rate of about once every year or two.”
As its name indicates, asteroid 2020 SW was only discovered this year.
The NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona was responsible for this incredible find.
Researchers also revealed it will make its closest approach at 12.12pm BST (7.12am ET) on September 24 over the Pacific.
Then following this close approach, the space rock will continue its trajectory around our Sun.
The asteroid will then not return to our neighbourhood until 2041 at the very earliest. 2020 SM will then make a far more distant visit.
NASA has in recent years been given the goal of finding 90 percent of the near-Earth asteroids 460ft (140m) or larger.
This is because such space rocks pose an existential threat threat should they ever impact Earth.
Their large dimensions mean these can easily be tracked far away from Earth.
This is because they are simply much brighter than their smaller cousins.
There are now believed to be more than 100 million small asteroids such as 2020 SW.
However, smaller space rocks are actually harder to keep an eye on unless they pass very close to our planet.
Dr Chodas added: ”The detection capabilities of NASA’s asteroid surveys are continually improving, and we should now expect to find asteroids of this size a couple days before they come near our planet.”
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