KEY POINTS

  • NASA detected an asteroid approaching Earth
  • The asteroid follows an Earth-crossing orbit
  • The asteroid could cause a powerful mid-air explosion

NASA is currently tracking an Earth-crossing asteroid that’s expected to approach the planet tomorrow morning. Based on the data collected by the agency, the asteroid is capable of causing a mid-air explosion more powerful than several atomic bombs if it hits Earth.

According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the asteroid that’s currently approaching Earth is known as 2020 BW13. As indicated in the agency’s database, this asteroid has an estimated diameter of about 66 feet. CNEOS noted that it is currently flying towards Earth at a speed of around 5,400 miles per hour.

Due to its natural trajectory, 2020 BW13 has been classified as an Aten asteroid. Like other asteroids that belong to this group, 2020 BW13 follows a dangerous orbit that occasionally intersects Earth’s path as it makes its way around the Sun.

2020 BW13’s natural orbit suggests that the asteroid could hit Earth if its trajectory slightly changes. If this happens, the asteroid would most likely not cause an impact event on Earth due to its relatively small size. Instead, the space rock would probably create a violent explosion in the sky after entering Earth’s atmosphere.

2020 BW13 is as big as the asteroid that collided with Earth and exploded over Russia in 2013. During that event, an asteroid traveling around 40,000 miles per hour entered Earth’s atmosphere. The extreme pressure and friction from Earth’s protective layer caused the asteroid to explode over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk. The detonation happened at an altitude of around 97,000 feet.

According to reports, the energy released by the explosion caused by the 66-foot-wide asteroid was equivalent to about 30 atomic bombs. Although much of the explosion was absorbed by the atmosphere, the blast was still powerful enough to affect structures on the ground.

The mid-air blast damaged over 7,000 buildings and around 1,500 people were seriously injured.

Fortunately, CNEOS noted that 2020 BW13 is not in danger of hitting Earth during its upcoming visit. According to the agency, this asteroid will fly past Earth on Feb. 24 at 11:10 a.m. EST from a distance of 0.02333 astronomical units or roughly 2.2 million miles away.

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