KEY POINTS

  • NASA spotted an asteroid that will approach Earth tomorrow
  • The approaching asteroid is big enough to cause a mid-air explosion
  • The most powerful airburst event happened in Russia in 1908

NASA’s asteroid tracking system is currently monitoring a near-Earth object that’s expected to approach the planet tomorrow. According to the data collected by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the asteroid could cause a violent airburst event if it were to hit the planet.

The approaching asteroid has been identified by CNEOS as 2020 BF11. As indicated in the agency’s database, this asteroid is currently moving across the Solar System and toward Earth at an average velocity of about 31,000 miles per hour. CNEOS estimated that the asteroid has a diameter of around 194 feet.

After studying the trajectory of the asteroid, NASA labeled 2020 BF11 a member of the Apollo family of space rocks. According to the agency, the asteroid follows an oval-shaped orbit that extends beyond the path of Mars. From time to time, 2020 BF11 crosses the path of Earth as it encircles the Sun. The asteroid’s near-Earth intersections usually occur when it approaches its closest point to the giant star.

According to CNEOS, the asteroid’s upcoming near-Earth intersection will happen on Feb. 7 at 5:26 p.m. EST. During this time, it will be about 0.04304 astronomical units or roughly 4 million miles from the planet’s center.

Given the asteroid’s size and speed, it is not in danger of causing an impact event on Earth if it collides with the planet. Instead, 2020 BF11 will most likely burn up and explode in the atmosphere. The energy that would be released from the blast would be equivalent to several atomic bombs.

Probably the most powerful recorded airburst event in history is the Tunguska event, which took place near the Podkemennaya Tunguska River in Russia in 1908. According to reports, an asteroid about 160 to 620 feet entered Earth’s atmosphere and exploded about 6 miles from the Earth’s surface.

Although the asteroid didn’t hit the ground, the energy from its mid-air explosion was powerful enough to flatten 830 square miles of forest. This area is almost as big as Jacksonville, which is the largest city in Florida. Records show that the energy from the blast was equivalent to 15 megatons of TNT, which is 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb used in World War II.

asteroids_passing_earth Pictured; an artistic illustration of an asteroid flying by Earth. Photo: NASA