On September 18, astronomers at the Mount Lemmon Survey (MLS), in Arizona, found a previously undiscovered asteroid. The relatively small space rock was detected on its approach to Earth, of which it will have an “extremely close” encounter on Thursday, September 24.
Astronomers from the MLS have dubbed the asteroid 2020 SW, and it is estimated to measure almost 10 metres long.
The asteroid will pass at a distance of just 0.07 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
According to observations, the asteroid is currently travelling at a speed of 7.7 kilometres per second.
This translates to 27,720 kilometres per hour, which although may seem extremely fast by our standards, it is almost three times slower than the average speed of an asteroid.
Astronomers have confirmed the space rock will safely pass by our planet.
Even if the asteroid’s path were to bring it towards Earth, which it will not, the rock would not pose a threat and would simply burn up in the atmosphere.
The Virtual Telescope Project said: “On September 24, 2020, the near-Earth Asteroid 2020 SW will have an extremely close, but safe, encounter with us, coming at about 27,000 km from the Earth, 7 percent of the average lunar distance.
“The near-Earth asteroid 2020 SW, discovered by the MLS on September 18, 2020 and announced the following day by the Minor Planet Center, has an estimated diameter in the range 4.3 – 9.7 meters (source: Nasa/JPL).”
Due to the close proximity in which the asteroid will fly by Earth, NASA has designated 2020 SW as a near Earth object (NEO).
NASA has said: “NEOs are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood.
“The scientific interest in comets and asteroids is due largely to their status as the relatively unchanged remnant debris from the solar system formation process some 4.6 billion years ago.
“The giant outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) formed from an agglomeration of billions of comets and the left over bits and pieces from this formation process are the comets we see today.
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“Likewise, today’s asteroids are the bits and pieces left over from the initial agglomeration of the inner planets that include Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.”
According to NASA, it has now tracked an accounted for more than 994,000 asteroids – with the bulk of this coming in the asteroid belt, situated between Mars and Jupiter.
But the space agency has plans in place if an asteroid were hurtling towards our planet.
NASA said: “What would we do if an NEO were found to be on a collision course with Earth?
“Could we deflect the asteroid to prevent the impact? In collaboration with Aerospace Corp, Centre for Near Earth Object Studies has developed an NEO Deflection App, which examines the kinetic impactor deflection technique for a series of hypothetical impacting asteroids.”
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