A Bus-Sized Asteroid Will Safely Fly Past Earth Today

This illustration shows a near-Earth asteroid traveling through space. NASA/JPL-Caltech

On Thursday, September 24, a school bus-sized asteroid will fly past the surface of our planet at a distance of 22,000 kilometers (13,600 miles). While it is important to monitor as many of these near-Earth objects (NEOs) as possible, the size and trajectory of this small body do not pose any concern.

2020 SW, as this space rock has been designated, is between 5 and 10 meters across (15 to 30 feet). Even if 2020 SW was on an orbit to collide with our planet, the rock would likely burn high up in the atmosphere.

"There are a large number of tiny asteroids like this one, and several of them approach our planet as close as this several times every year," Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. "In fact, asteroids of this size impact our atmosphere at an average rate of about once every year or two."

The asteroid was discovered last week on September 18 when the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona spotted the approaching object. Thanks to follow up observations conducted by CNEOS, we now know that its closest approach will take place at 7:12am EDT somewhere over the Southeastern Pacific Ocean.

This gif shows the close passage of asteroid 2020 SW on September 24, 2020. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The next time this cosmic boulder will be close enough to Earth again will be 2041. During that passage, 2020 SW will be even further away from Earth. While this is a safe body, NASA and other agencies across the world have to remain vigilant as 100 million of these bodies are likely to exist and the vast majority are yet to be found.

"The detection capabilities of NASA's asteroid surveys are continually improving, and we should now expect to find asteroids of this size a couple days before they come near our planet," added Chodas.

NASA is trying to catalog every dangerous NEO and while much progress has been achieved over the last 15 years, a lot more work remains to be done.


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