KEY POINTS

  • An asteroid will approach Earth on Christmas
  • The approaching asteroid follows an Earth-crossing orbit
  • The asteroid could cause a powerful mid-air explosion if it hits Earth

NASA is currently monitoring an asteroid that is expected to approach Earth on Christmas day. Given the size of the asteroid, it could cause a powerful mid-air explosion equivalent to multiple atomic bombs if it collides with the planet.

The approaching asteroid was identified by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) as 2019 YB1. It has an estimated diameter of about 92 feet and is currently flying towards Earth at an average speed of 12,500 miles per hour.

According to CNEOS, 2019 YB is an Apollo asteroid. As a member of this family of space rocks, 2019 YB has a very wide orbit that covers many planets in the Solar System including Mercury, Venus, Earth and sometimes Mars. Occasionally, the asteroid’s orbit intersects with the path of Earth as it completes its cycle around the Sun.

Compared to the other asteroid that approached Earth this month, 2019 YB is certainly smaller and slower. If its natural orbit brings it to a direct collision course with the planet, it will most likely burn up in the atmosphere and explode instead of causing an impact event on the ground.

Unfortunately, as previous incidents have shown, mid-air explosions by asteroids can still be quite dangerous and destructive. Given the asteroid’s size, the energy that would be released by its mid-air detonation would be equivalent to about 40 to 50 atomic bombs.

Although a huge percentage of this energy would be absorbed by the planet’s atmosphere, the remaining force could still be powerful enough to affect those on the ground. Depending on where it explodes, 2019 YB1’s airburst could shatter windows and damage buildings within a large area.

Fortunately, the approaching asteroid is not in danger of colliding with the planet during its upcoming visit. According to CNEOS, 2019 YB1 is expected to fly past Earth on Dec. 25 at 6:41 a.m. EST. During its approach, the asteroid will be about 0.01069 astronomical units or roughly 994,000 miles from the planet’s center. After its visit on Christmas, the asteroid is not expected to return to Earth’s vicinity until Nov. 11, 2051.