KEY POINTS

  • NASA has detected an asteroid that will approach Earth tomorrow
  • The space rock is classified as an Apollo asteroid due to its orbit
  • The approaching asteroid is big enough to cause a powerful mid-air explosion

NASA warned that an asteroid is expected to dangerously approach Earth tomorrow. If the space rock were to hit the planet, it could cause a violent explosion in the atmosphere.

According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the approaching asteroid is called 2020 AT1. As indicated in the data collected by CNEOS, this asteroid is currently traveling across space at speeds of almost 14,000 miles per hour. The agency estimated that the asteroid has a diameter of about 62 feet.

The 2020 AT1 asteroid belongs to a family of asteroids known as Apollos. According to the data gathered by NASA on the asteroid’s trajectory, 2020 AT1 follows a concentric orbit around various planets in the Solar System such as Mars, Venus and Mercury. From time to time, the asteroid’s orbit intersects with that of Earth.

As noted by NASA, 2020 AT1’s next near-Earth intersection will occur on Jan. 9 at 6:55 am EST. During this time, the asteroid will pass by Earth from a distance of only 0.00634 astronomical units, which is equivalent to just 589,000 miles away.

If the asteroid gets nudged slightly by certain factors in space, such as the gravitational pull of a nearby planet, then it could end up on a direct collision course with Earth. Unlike asteroids that are as big or even larger than buildings, 2020 AT1 will not cause an impact event on Earth.

Instead of hitting the ground, the asteroid would simply get incinerated in the atmosphere and detonate mid-air. Although the asteroid will explode in the sky, this doesn’t automatically mean that people on the ground will be safe.

Due to 2020 AT1’s size, it can cause a mid-air explosion that’s powerful enough to affect people and structures on the ground. The energy that would be released from its explosion would be equivalent to multiple atomic bombs.

Although much of the blast would be absorbed by the atmosphere, the remaining energy could still be powerful enough to shatter windows and cause damages to houses and buildings.  Aside from structural damages, the shockwave generated by the asteroid’s explosion could also cause injuries to people on the ground.

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