NASA has detected that one of the largest known potentially hazardous asteroids will approach Earth less than a year from now. Depending on several factors in space, the approaching planet-killer asteroid could end up on a path straight to Earth.

The approaching asteroid has been identified by the space agency as 1998 OR2. It was first discovered on June 30, 1987, and is known to frequently approach the orbits of Earth and Jupiter. It was classified as an Amor asteroid, which means its orbit covers both the Sun and Earth.

As indicated by NASA’s asteroid tracking department, which is known as the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), 1998 OR2 has an estimated diameter of 13,500 feet. Given its size, the asteroid is longer than the National Mall in Washington D.C., which stretches from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial.

According to CNEOS, 1998 OR2 will fly past Earth on April 29, 2020, at 5:56 am EDT. During its approach, the asteroid will be about 0.04205 astronomical units or around 3.9 million miles from the planet’s center.  

Despite the safe distance between the Earth and the asteroid, a collision between these two can still happen due to certain factors in space such as the Yarkovsky effect. This is a type of force that is exerted on an asteroid due to heat from internal or external sources such as the Sun. This could affect how the asteroid spins, which could then alter its path and send it hurtling towards Earth.

Another factor that can affect an asteroid’s trajectory is a gravitation keyhole. This is a certain area in space that’s affected by the gravitational pull of a nearby planet. If 1998 OR2 goes through a keyhole, the gravitational forces could nudge the asteroid into a collision course with Earth.

With a diameter of over 2.5 miles long, 1998 OR2 will certainly have devastating effects on the planet if it crashes on Earth. Aside from the massive explosion it will cause upon impact, the asteroid strike will also trigger an extreme global event that will alter Earth’s weather and atmospheric conditions.

NASA asteroid impact An illustration shows an asteroid impacting Earth in circumstances similar to the asteroid strike that killed the dinosaurs and plunged the world into darkness. Photo: NASA/NCAR