KEY POINTS

  • An asteroid as big as a building is approaching Earth
  • Apollo asteroids are known to cross Earth's orbit
  • The approaching asteroid could cause a mid-air explosion

NASA confirmed that an asteroid as big as a building will dangerously approach Earth this week. According to the agency’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the asteroid follows a dangerous orbit that is known to occasionally intersect Earth’s path.

The approaching asteroid has been identified as 2020 DA4. As indicated in CNEOS’ database, this asteroid is currently moving towards Earth at a speed of over 20,000 miles per hour.

CNEOS noted that the asteroid measures about 144 feet wide, which makes it slightly shorter than the Chicago Water Tower.

2020 DA4 is a member of the Apollo family of asteroids. According to NASA, the asteroid follows a wide path around the Sun, which extends to the plane between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. From time to time, 2020 DA4 crosses Earth’s orbit as it travels around the massive star.

If the asteroid collides with the planet during one of its near-Earth intersections, it most likely won’t cause an impact event on the ground. Instead, the asteroid will probably burn up in the atmosphere and create a powerful explosion in the sky.

Based on the asteroid’s size and current speed, the blast from its airburst could be equivalent to multiple atomic bombs. Although much of the explosion will be directed towards the atmosphere, the remaining energy could still be powerful enough to damage buildings, shatter windows and injure people on the ground.

According to CNEOS, 2020 DA4 will intersect Earth’s orbit on March 3 at 9:06 a.m. EST. As it crosses Earth’s path, the asteroid is expected to be about 0.00629 astronomical units or roughly 585,000 miles from the planet’s center. This means that the asteroid will only be about twice the distance between the Earth and the Moon during its approach.

2020 DA4 was first observed on Feb. 27. After analyzing its trajectory, CNEOS was able to predict its future near-Earth approaches. According to the agency, the asteroid is not expected to return to Earth’s neighborhood until May 31, 2022. During this time, this asteroid will be about 0.01492 astronomical units or roughly 1.4 million miles from Earth.  

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