KEY POINTS

  • NASA detected an asteroid approaching Earth
  • The asteroid follows an Earth-crossing orbit
  • The asteroid can cause a mid-air explosion 

NASA is currently monitoring an asteroid with an Earth-crossing orbit that’s expected to approach the planet tomorrow. If the asteroid ends up hitting Earth, it would cause a mid-air explosion that’s equivalent to multiple atomic bombs.

The approaching asteroid has been identified by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) as 2020 BZ4. According to the data collected by the agency, this asteroid has an estimated diameter of 56 feet. It is currently traveling across space at an average velocity of almost 20,000 miles per hour.

2020 BZ4 is classified as an Aten asteroid that follows a very wide orbit within the Solar System. It is known to intersect Earth’s orbit twice as it makes its way around the Sun. Aside from Earth, 2020 BZ4 also intersects the path of Venus.

Compared to other types of asteroids, space rocks with Earth-crossing trajectories are considered the most dangerous since they have the greatest chance of colliding with the planet. In the case of 2020 BZ4, this asteroid won’t cause an impact event if it hits Earth.

Instead of hitting the ground, this asteroid will most likely explode mid-air and cause a powerful explosion in the atmosphere. Given 2020 BZ4’s size and current speed, the energy that would be released from its explosion would be equivalent to about 30 atomic bombs.

Much of the blast would be absorbed by the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the remaining energy from the explosion would still be powerful enough to affect people and structures on the ground. Depending on the altitude of the explosion, the blast could shatter windows and cause structural damage to buildings on the ground. It could injure a lot of people during an airburst incident.

According to CNEOS, 2020 BZ4 is not in danger of hitting Earth during its upcoming visit. This asteroid is expected to cross Earth’s path on Jan. 31 at 9:48 a.m. EST. During this time, the asteroid will be about 0.01452 astronomical units away from the planet’s center, which is equivalent to around 1.3 million miles. Its next near-Earth intersection is expected to happen on Jan. 13, 2021.