KEY POINTS

  • NASA has detected an asteroid approaching Earth
  • The asteroid follows an Earth-crossing orbit
  • 2020 KN5 is capable of causing a powerful airburst

NASA’s automated asteroid tracking system has detected an approaching near-Earth object that’s bigger than a building. Based on the data collected by the agency, the incoming asteroid will intersect Earth’s orbit on Thursday (June 4).

The asteroid is currently being monitored by NASA through its Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). As indicated in CNEOS’ database, the approaching asteroid is known as 2020 KN5.

The agency estimated that this asteroid measures about 177 feet wide, making it larger than the Chicago Water Tower. According to CNEOS, the asteroid is currently moving towards Earth at an average velocity of over 28,000 miles per hour.

2020 KN5 was first observed on May 31. After analyzing its orbit, NASA learned that the asteroid follows a wide trajectory around the Sun. It occasionally flies beyond the orbit of Mars.

As the asteroid travels within the Solar System, it occasionally crosses Earth’s path. Due to its Earth-intersecting orbit, 2020 KN5 has been classified as an Apollo asteroid.

Given the asteroid’s size and current speed, it most likely won’t cause an impact event or hit the ground if it collides with Earth. Instead, the asteroid will probably break apart after entering the atmosphere and explode mid-air.

Unfortunately, asteroid airbursts can still be dangerous. For instance, back in 2013, an asteroid measuring about 66 feet wide entered the atmosphere and detonated over a populated city in Russia.

The mid-air blast caused by the asteroid released energy equivalent to around 30 atomic bombs. Although much of the explosion’s energy was absorbed by the atmosphere, its shockwave was still powerful enough to affect people and buildings on the ground.

According to reports, the incident damaged over 7,000 buildings in the area and injured more than 1,000 people.

Fortunately, 2020 KN5 is not in danger of hitting Earth or causing a mid-air explosion during its upcoming visit. According to CNEOS, the asteroid is expected to safely fly past Earth at 6:14 p.m. EDT.

During its approach, the asteroid will be about 0.04138 astronomical units or roughly 3.8 million miles from the planet’s center.

asteroids_passing_earth Over 17,000 near-Earth asteroids remain undetected in our solar neighborhood. Pictured; an artistic illustration of an asteroid flying by Earth. Photo: NASA