KEY POINTS

  • NASA detected a massive asteroid approaching Earth
  • The asteroid is big enough to wipe out an entire city
  • The incoming asteroid will intersect Earth's orbit tonight

An asteroid larger than the Golden Gate Bridge tower is currently heading for Earth. Based on the data collected by NASA’s monitoring system, the asteroid is big enough to destroy an entire city if it collides with the planet.

The approaching asteroid has been identified as 2020 AQ1. According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, this asteroid is currently flying towards the planet at an impressive speed of over 61,500 miles per hour. The agency noted that this asteroid has an estimated diameter of about 755 feet.

2020 AQ1 is officially classified as an Apollo asteroid. Like other asteroids that belong to this group, 2020 AQ1 follows a very wide orbit that extends between Mars and Jupiter. From time to time, the asteroids intersects the path of Earth as it travels around the Sun. Aside from Earth, the asteroid also crosses the orbits of other planets such as Mars, Venus and Mercury.

According to CNEOS, the asteroid’s next near-Earth intersection is expected to happen tonight. Given the asteroid’s size and current speed, it can certainly cause a major impact event if it collides with the planet.

Although the asteroid is not big enough to trigger mass extinction events, it can still wipe out an entire city. Based on its size, the asteroid could create a crater of about two to three miles wide if it hits Earth.

Upon impact, the energy that would be released from the asteroid’s explosion would be equivalent to multiple nuclear bombs. The blast wave it would generate would incinerate everything in its path.

If the asteroid hits the ocean, on the other hand, it would create towering tsunamis that are capable of traveling several miles away from the point of impact. These tsunamis would destroy coastal areas as well as nearby inland regions.

According to CNEOS, 2020 AQ1 will approach Earth on Jan. 19 at 9:45 p.m. EST. During its approach, the asteroid will be about 0.02683 astronomical units or roughly 2.5 million miles from the planet’s center. It is not expected to return to Earth’s vicinity until Aug. 23, 2104.