KEY POINTS

  • NASA detected an asteroid that will approach Earth tomorrow
  • The approaching asteroid follows an Earth-intersecting orbit
  • The asteroid will cause an airburst if it collides with Earth

NASA has revealed that an asteroid with an Earth-crossing orbit is expected to approach the planet tomorrow. If the approaching asteroid collides with Earth, it would create a huge and violent explosion in the atmosphere.

NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) identified the incoming asteroid as 2020 AR1. According to the agency, this asteroid has an estimated diameter of about 72 feet. It will approach Earth at a speed of almost 21,500 miles per hour.

2020 AR1 was first observed on Jan. 4. After studying the asteroid’s trajectory, NASA officially classified the approaching asteroid as a member of the Apollo family of space rocks. Similar to other Apollo asteroids, 2020 AR1 follows a wide and oval-shaped orbit around various planets in the Solar System such as Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury. Occasionally, is orbit crosses Earth’s path as the planet travels around the Sun.

2020 AR1’s next near-Earth intersection is expected to happen on Jan. 8 at 12:17 a.m. EST. During this time, the asteroid will be about 0.01775 astronomical units or around 1.6 million miles from the planet’s center.

Since 2020 AR1 has an orbit that intersects that of Earth, this means that this asteroid has a chance of hitting Earth someday. If this catastrophic event happens, the asteroid will most likely not hit the ground and cause an impact event on the planet.

Instead, due to its size, the asteroid will most likely burn up in the atmosphere. Before reaching the ground, 2020 AR1 will break apart and cause a powerful explosion in the sky. Although the asteroid won’t cause an impact event on the ground, exploding mid-air does not automatically mean that 2020 AR1 is completely harmless.

As historical records have shown, airbursts caused by asteroid can be quite dangerous. In 1908, an asteroid detonated over the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Russia. According to reports, the asteroid, which was at least 160 feet wide, exploded at an altitude of 3 to 6 miles. The energy generated by the blast was powerful enough to flatten 770 square miles of forest. Luckily, the explosion happened over a remote region.

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