Next week Earth is set to have yet another close encounter with a ‘potentially hazardous’ asteroid.
This gigantic space rock measures between 53 – 120 metres (174 – 393.7 feet) in diameter and will pass Earth at a distance of 4.2 million miles.
That seems pretty far away, but it’s still close enough to make it onto Nasa’s watch list.
The US space agency measures any asteroid coming within 4.65 million miles of our planet and deems it ‘potentially hazardous’.
This particular rock – called Asteroid 2020 QL2 – will make its flyby of Earth next Monday, September 14. At 4.50pm BST, to be exact.
Given its size (at an estimated 135 metres tall, it’s almost the size of the London Eye) and speed, there may be some cause for concern. But Nasa insists it’s not going to hit us.
‘As they orbit the Sun, NEOs [near-Earth objects] can occasionally approach close to Earth,’ Nasa explained.
‘Note that a ‘close’ passage astronomically can be very far away in human terms: millions or even tens of millions of kilometres.’
‘Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are currently defined based on parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth,’ Nasa said in a statement.
‘On a daily basis, about one hundred tons of interplanetary material drifts down to the Earth’s surface,’ said Nasa’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).
‘Most of the smallest interplanetary particles that reach the Earth’s surface are the tiny dust particles that are released by comets as their ices vaporize in the solar neighborhood.
‘The vast majority of the larger interplanetary material that reaches the Earth’s surface originates as the collision fragments of asteroids that have run into one another some eons ago.’
The agency does go into some detail about would would happen if one of these rocks did end up smashing into us: ‘With an average interval of about 10,000 years, rocky or iron asteroids larger than about 100 meters would be expected to reach the Earth’s surface and cause local disasters or produce the tidal waves that can inundate low lying coastal areas.’
‘On an average of every several hundred thousand years or so, asteroids larger than a kilometer could cause global disasters. In this case, the impact debris would spread throughout the Earth’s atmosphere so that plant life would suffer from acid rain, partial blocking of sunlight, and from the firestorms resulting from heated impact debris raining back down upon the Earth’s surface.
‘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 characterize their sizes, compositions and structures and to keep an eye upon their future trajectories.’
Thankfully, we won’t have to worry about any of that happening next week. As you were.