The European Space Agency (ESA) has detected an asteroid that has a non-zero impact probability of hitting Earth three years from now. The approaching asteroid was included in the space agency’s Risk List.

The ESA’s Risk List catalogues near-Earth objects that might hit the planet in the future. "The Risk List is a catalogue of all objects for which a non-zero impact probability has been detected. Each entry contains details on the Earth approach posing the highest risk of impact," ESA explains.

One of the asteroids included in the list is 2009 JF1. According to the ESA’s database, the asteroid has a diameter of about 52 feet and is currently traveling at a speed of 59,000 miles per hour, making it three times faster than the orbital velocity of the Space Shuttle.

The asteroid is expected to approach Earth on May 6, 2022 and will be within 0.08601 astronomical units or about 7.9 million miles from the planet’s center.

Although 2009 JF1 is expected to only fly past Earth, ESA's data notes it still has a slim chance of crashing on the planet. As indicated in the agency’s Risk List, the chances of 2009 JF1 causing an impact event on Earth are one out of 4,000. 2009 JF1’s chances are greater compared to those of 2006 QV89, another asteroid that’s included in ESA Risk List. The space agency indicated that this asteroid’s chances of hitting Earth are one in 7,000. ESA predicted that 2006 QV89 might hit Earth in September.

According to various scientific studies conducted on space objects, there are a number of factors that can affect the paths of asteroids. One of these is the gravitational keyhole.

Gravitational keyholes are specific areas in space that are affected by the gravitational pull of a nearby large object. Scientists believe that if a near-Earth object passes through a keyhole, the gravitational pull could significantly alter its course.

Another possible factor that can alter an asteroid’s path if it collides with another object as its travelling through space.

However, in the case of 2009 JF1, the chances of it hitting Earth is very low.

NASA asteroid impact
An illustration shows an asteroid impacting Earth in circumstances similar to the asteroid strike that killed the dinosaurs and plunged the world into darkness. NASA/NCAR