The speedy asteroid is trapped on an orbit that will bring it incredibly close to our planet on Tuesday, February 18. Dubbed Asteroid 2020 DB by NASA’s automated tracking systems, the space rock’s trajectory was only confirmed yesterday (February 16).
NASA’s asteroid trackers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California predict the so-called near-Earth object (NEO) will approach around 2.45am GMT on Tuesday.
When this happens, the space rock will swing by at speeds of around 21.67km per second.
In other words, the asteroid is barreling through space at about 48,474mph (78012km/h).
NASA said: “Some asteroids and comets follow orbital paths that take them much closer to the Sun and therefore Earth – than usual.
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“If a comet or asteroid’s approach brings it to within 1.3 astronomical units of the Sun, we call it a near-Earth object.”
If the asteroid measures about 500ft (150m) across, astronomers will consider the object “potentially hazardous”.
The news comes after NASA’s tracking systems watched a 0.6-mile-wide (one kilometre) shoot past Earth on February 15.
Thankfully, Asteroid DB is much smaller and is only estimated to measures between 39.4ft to 88.5ft (12m to 27m) across.
At the lower end of the estimate, the space rock is comparable in width to the length of about one-and-a-half London double-decker buses.
An asteroid this small would most likely disintegrate in the atmosphere before it reached the ground.
As they orbit the Sun, NEOs can occasionally approach close to Earth
At the upper end of the estimate, however, the space rock could be big enough to survive the descent.
Measuring about 88.5ft (27m) in diameter, the asteroid is comparable to about six Volkswagen Beetle cars lined up in a row.
NASA said: “Space rocks smaller than about 25m – about 82ft – will most likely burn up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere and cause little or no damage.
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“If a rocky meteoroid larger than 25m but smaller than one kilometre – a little more than one-half-a-mile – were to hit Earth, it would likely cause local damage to the impact area.”
But will there be any need for NASA to sound the alarm bells for the flyby tomorrow morning?
At its closest, NASA said the space rock will approach the planet from about 0.00968 astronomical units (au).
A single astronomical unit is the distance from our planet to the Sun – about 93 million miles (149.6 million km).
So, in other words, Asteroid DB will miss our planet on Tuesday by about 899,812 miles (1.44 million km).
The distance is equal to about 3.77 times the distance from Earth to the Moon.
NASA said: “As they orbit the Sun, NEOs can occasionally approach close to Earth.
“Note that a ‘close’ passage astronomically can be very far away in human terms: millions or even tens of millions of kilometres.”
After that, the spade rock is not expected to visit Earth’s corner of space again in the foreseeable future.
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