KEY POINTS

  • NASA detected an asteroid that will approach Earth tomorrow
  • 2020 FN follows a natural orbit that intersects Earth's path
  • The asteroid could cause a powerful airburst if it hits Earth

NASA’s asteroid tracking system is currently monitoring an approaching space rock that will intersect Earth’s orbit tomorrow. According to the data collected by the agency, the incoming asteroid is as big as the space rock that caused a powerful mid-air explosion over Russia in 2013.

The approaching asteroid has been identified by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies as 2020 FN. This asteroid measures about 59 feet, making it almost as long as a standard bowling lane.

According to CNEOS, 2020 FN is currently traveling across the Solar System and towards Earth at an average speed of over 15,000 miles per hour.

After studying the asteroid’s trajectory, NASA classified 2020 FN as an Apollo asteroid. As noted by the agency, the asteroid follows an elongated orbit that reaches the area between Jupiter and Mars. Occasionally, the asteroid’s orbit crosses the path of Earth as it travels around the Sun.

2020 FN’s Earth-crossing orbit means it has a chance of colliding with Earth if its trajectory slightly changes. But, since the asteroid is not that big, it won’t cause an impact event on the ground. Instead, 2020 FN will most likely explode in Earth’s atmosphere upon hitting the planet.

Unfortunately, a mid-air explosion does not automatically make 2020 FN a harmless asteroid. The energy from its possible airburst could be equivalent to the blast produced by the asteroid that exploded in Russia in 2013.

During that incident, a 66-foot-wide asteroid collided with Earth and detonated over a city in Russia known as Chelyabinsk. Reports indicated the asteroid hit the planet with an impact velocity of about 40,000 miles per hour.

It exploded at an altitude of about 97,000 feet and released kinetic energy equivalent to about 30 atomic bombs. Although the asteroid exploded at a high altitude, the blast was still powerful enough to damage over 7,000 buildings on the ground. Over 1,500 people were also injured because of the explosion.

According to CNEOS, 2020 FN is expected to cross Earth’s path on March 19 at 9:46 am EDT. During this time, the asteroid will fly past Earth from a distance of 0.01197 astronomical units, or roughly 1.1 million miles away.

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