The colossal asteroid dubbed by NASA 2020 AN3 is expected to close in on Earth tomorrow (January 17). NASA expects the rock to show up around 1.35am GMT (8.35pm EST) on what has been called an “Earth close approach”.
If the news of a close approach is not terrifying enough, NASA estimates the space rock measures up to 1,673ft (510m) across.
Any asteroid this big is roughly five times taller than Big Ben’s clocktower in London.
The asteroid would also dwarf the 95-storey Shard and as many as 60 London double-decker buses lined up in a row.
Asteroid 2020 AN3 will approach the planet tomorrow because it has been classified as an NEO or Near-Earth Object.
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NASA considers any comet or asteroid racing around the Sun an NEO if its orbit does not exceed 1.3 astronomical units.
These objects are trapped within the inner confines of the solar system and often cross paths with our planet.
Although most asteroid flybys are harmless, an asteroid will occasionally slam into Earth to cataclysmic effect.
According to NASA, any object at the upper end of Asteroid AN3’s size estimate could potentially kill thousands if not millions upon impact.
NASA said: “If a rocky meteoroid larger than 25m but smaller than one kilometre – a little more than one-and-half mile – were to hit Earth, it would likely cause local damage to the impact area.”
But there is a chance the asteroid is smaller than the upper end of NASA’s estimate.
As they orbit the Sun, NEOs can occasionally approach close to Earth
At the lower end of the scales, the space rock could measure a formidable 754.6ft (230m) across.
Any object this big is comparable in height to The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, US.
When the asteroid approaches our planet tomorrow, it will reach speeds of about 17.21km per second or 38,497mph (61,956km/h).
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But despite making a close approach to Earth, why is NASA not sounding the alarm bells?
At its closest, the space rock will approach our planet from a distance of about 0.02036 astronomical units.
A single astronomical unit is the distance from our planet to the Sun – about 93 million miles (149.6 million km).
Asteroid AN3 will slash this distance down to just 1.89 million miles (3.04 million km) tomorrow.
The distance involved might sound like a lifetime away but on the cosmic scale of distances, it is within Earth’s corner of space.
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.”
In other words, the asteroid will approach our planet from about 7.92 times the distance to the Moon.
After that, the rock is expected to visit the Earth again on December 1, 2035.
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