There Is A Small But Real Chance An Asteroid Will Hit Earth The Day Before The US Election

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Over the last few days, there’s been a lot of internet chat about an asteroid hitting Earth on November 2, 2020, the day before the US presidential election. While this space rock could enter our atmosphere, there is nothing to worry about. The asteroid is so small it's unlikely to reach the ground.

The object in question is known as 2018 VP1, and as the name suggests it was discovered in 2018. It is roughly 2 meters (6.5 feet) across and comes close to our planet every two years. Given that it is so small, it is difficult to study its orbit precisely and how close it will come to our planet.

The nominal distance between the center of the Earth and the small asteroid is estimated to be around 420,000 kilometers (260,000 miles), which is beyond the orbit of the Moon. Its upper limit is up to 4 million kilometers (just shy of 2.5 million miles) and its closest distance to Earth puts it on a head-on collision, but there’s only a 1 in 240 chance (0.41 percent) for that to happen.

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If 2018 VP1 does hit Earth, the small rock will likely break apart from the friction with the atmosphere and burn over the Pacific. Light fragments may reach the ground like in the case of the Sutter’s Mill meteorites in 2012 or asteroid 2014 AA, which burned over the Atlantic just 21 hours after being discovered.

2018 VP1 is far from alone in space. There are hundreds of millions of these types of bodies, which are unlikely to cause damage. Over the last 15 years, NASA has worked to discover as many dangerous asteroids as possible. The goal is to track the orbits of any object over 100 meters (330 feet) across. 

All the civilization-ending asteroids are known, but there are certainly yet-to-be-discovered bodies that could destroy a large city and produce continent-wide effects if they were to hit Earth. Over 2,000 of these large asteroids are known, which is slightly less than one-third of the up to 6,200 objects estimated to be out there.

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