KEY POINTS

  • NASA detected an asteroid approaching Earth
  • 2020 EF has a natural orbit that intersects Earth's path
  • The approaching asteroid is big enough to cause a powerful airburst

An asteroid following an Earth-intersecting orbit was approaching  the planet. The asteroid is being monitored by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, which is tracking the object, known as 2020 EF, at more than 10,000 mph.

CNEOS said the asteroid is expected to approach Earth on March 18 at 11:15 p.m. EDT. During this time, the asteroid will fly past Earth from a distance of 0.04241 astronomical units or roughly 3.9 million miles from the planet’s center.

CNEOS estimated the asteroid has a diameter of about 98 feet, making it slightly longer than the distances between baseball diamond bases.

According to CNEOS, 2020 EF is an Aten asteroid, which means it follows a natural orbit that crosses Earth’s path. As indicated in NASA’s orbit diagram for 2020 EF, the asteroid follows a very wide orbit around the sun and almost follows the same path as Earth. The diagram also shows multiple near-approaches between 2020 EF and the planet.

Due to its size, 2020 EF will most likely not cause an impact event, likely breaking if it enters Earth's atmosphere. It's big enough, however, to cause an explosion in the sky that could be dangerous, as illustrated by the 2013 meteor explosion over the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia, which produced a flash 30 times brighter than the Sun and caused 180 cases of eye pain and 70 cases of temporary flash blindness.

Asteroid Image: Artist illustration of an asteroid heading for the Earth Photo: Pixabay