On the eve of the US presidential election on Tuesday, November 3, a tiny space rock will fly close to Earth. There is a chance this small asteroid will enter our atmosphere but worry not. If the asteroid does enter our atmosphere, it will burn up long before it reaches the ground.
The asteroid, discovered in 2018, is called 2018 VP1. At roughly 2 meters (6.5 feet) in length, it orbits the Sun in two Earth years, which means it regularly nears our planet. Unfortunately, studying and predicting its orbit is difficult due to its tiny size. With this uncertainty in mind, astronomers estimate there's a 1 in 240 chance (0.41 percent) that it will hit our planet.
The nominal distance between the center of the Earth and 2018 VP1 is 420,000 kilometers (260,000 miles), which is further than the Moon is from Earth. The maximum possible distance is 4 million kilometers (just shy of 2.5 million miles). Its closest possible distance is smack right into the planet’s atmosphere somewhere above the Pacific ocean.
The complete annihilation of the asteroid depends on its composition, which is another unknown factor. It's possible that small fragments of 2018 VP1 could reach the ground. For example, a similar scenario happened with the Sutter’s Mill meteorites in 2012 and the 2014 AA asteroid, which was discovered a few hours before its demise through the atmosphere.
Researchers expect there are hundreds of millions of small, mostly harmless asteroids like 2018 VP1. There are certainly larger, more dangerous objects out there and NASA and other space agencies have tried to track as many of them as possible. The American agency's goal is to track the orbits of any near-Earth objects (NEOs) over 100 meters (330 feet) across.
While all the civilization-ending asteroids are believed to be known, many celestial bodies that could destroy a large city or more are yet to be found. Up to 6,200 objects are estimated to be out there but roughly 2,000 are currently known.