KEY POINTS

  • NASA spotted an asteroid currently approaching Earth
  • Apollo asteroids are dangerous due to their natural orbit
  • The approaching asteroid can cause a powerful airburst

NASA’s asteroid tracking system is currently monitoring a space rock that’s expected to approach Earth tomorrow night. According to the agency, the incoming near-Earth object follows a dangerous Earth-crossing orbit.

The approaching asteroid has been identified by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) as 2020 CH. As indicated in the agency’s database, this asteroid has an estimated diameter of 171 feet, making it almost as tall as the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.

CNEOS noted that this asteroid is currently traveling across the Solar System towards Earth at an impressive speed of over 21,000 miles per hour.

After studying the trajectory of the asteroid, NASA classified it as a member of the Apollo family of near-Earth objects. Out of all the asteroid classifications, Apollos are probably the most dangerous due to their natural orbits.

Like most Apollos, 2020 CH has an elongated orbit that extends beyond Mars. From time to time, it intersects Earth’s orbit as the planet makes its way around the Sun. The asteroid crosses Earth’s path twice as the space rock reaches its closest point from the massive star at the center of the Solar System.

Due to its natural Earth-crossing orbit, 2020 CH is in danger of hitting the planet every time it passes by. If a collision between Earth and the asteroid, does happen, an impact event would most likely not occur. Based on the data collected by CNEOS, 2020 CH is not big or fast enough to reach the ground during a collision.

Instead, this asteroid would most like burn up in the atmosphere and cause a powerful mid-air explosion. Given the size of the asteroid, the energy from its airburst would be equivalent to at least 50 atomic bombs. Depending on the altitude of the asteroid’s mid-air explosion, the resulting energy could still affect people and structures on the ground.

According to CNEOS, 2020 CH is expected to make its debut in Earth’s neighborhood on Feb. 11 at 8:19 p.m. EST. During its approach, the asteroid will be about 0.02975 astronomical units from the planet’s center, which is equivalent to about 2.8 million miles away.   

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