AN ASTEROID racing towards Earth at more than 21,100mph will make a “close approach” early tomorrow, NASA has confirmed – but is the asteroid expected to hit the planet?
At this rate, the asteroid will narrow the gap between itself and our planet by 1.19am GMT tomorrow (8.19pm EST tonight).
NASA has dubbed the rocky body Asteroid 2020 CH after its date of discovery this year.
The asteroid was confirmed in the solar system on February 1, and as of Monday, NASA has traced its orbit 35 times.
The US space has since determined the space rock’s size, speed and trajectory.
NASA said: “Since their orbital paths often cross that of the Earth, collisions with near-Earth objects have occurred in the past and we should remain alert to the possibility of future close Earth approaches.
“It seems prudent to mount efforts to discover and study these objects, to characterise their sizes, compositions and structures and to keep an eye upon their future trajectories.”
Asteroid 2020 CH is a so-called near-Earth object or NEO, meaning its orbit of the Sun can bring it close to Earth.
NEOs will sometimes crash into Earth and discovering them well ahead of impact is Earth’s only chance of avoiding death.
NASA said: “Given several years warning time, existing technology could be used to deflect the threatening object away from Earth.
“The key point in this mitigation process is to find the threatening object years ahead of time so that an orderly international campaign can be mounted to send spacecraft to the threatening object.”
The key point in this mitigation process is to find the threatening object years ahead
NASA estimates 2020 CH is a deceptively small space rock, only measuring between 75.4ft and 179.6ft (23m and 52m) across.
At the lower end of the estimate, the asteroid would be too small to survive the fiery descent through Earth’s atmosphere.
But incidents like the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor strike show even small space rocks can cause a lot of chaos.
When an undetected 65.6ft-wide (20m) entered the skies above Russia’s Chelyabinsk Oblast, the rock exploded before it could reach the ground.
The resulting airblast, however, was powerful enough to blow out windows in a large radius and injure more than 1,000 people with shards of broken glass.
At the upper end of NASA’s size estimate. The Asteroid CH is comparable in height to Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London.
The asteroid is also traveling at speeds of about 9.45km per second or 21,139mph (34,020km/h).
But is the asteroid expected to hit our planet anytime soon?
NASA predicts the space rock will approach the planet from a distance of about 0.02975 astronomical units or au.
A single astronomical unit measures about 93 million miles (149.6 million km). Which is the distance from the Earth to the Sun?
Asteroid 2020 CH will cut this down to just 2.76 million miles (4.45 million km) tomorrow.
In other words, the asteroid will safely fly by nearly 12 times as far as the Moon is from Earth.