KEY POINTS

  • NASA detected two asteroids approaching Earth
  • The asteroids have trajectories that intersect Earth's orbit
  • The asteroids are capable of causing violent mid-air explosions

NASA’s asteroid monitoring system is currently tracking two asteroids that are expected to dangerously approach Earth tonight. If these asteroids would end up colliding with the planet, they could cause explosions equivalent to multiple atomic bombs in the atmosphere.

According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the first asteroid that will visit the planet tonight is called 2020 AZ1. As indicated in the data collected by the agency, this asteroid has an estimated diameter of about 92 feet. CNEOS noted that the asteroid is currently flying towards Earth at a speed of almost 9,000 miles per hour.

Trailing behind 2020 AZ1 is an asteroid that has been identified as 2019 YD3. According to CNEOS, this asteroid is traveling across the Solar System at speeds of over 10,000 miles per hour. It is estimated to be about 125 feet wide.

2020 AZ1 is classified as an Aten asteroid. Although most Aten asteroids follow a narrow orbit within the system, they are still known to pass by various planets including Venus and Mercury. Occasionally, their natural orbit intersects with that of Earth.

2019 YD3, on the other hand, is an Apollo asteroid. Compared to Atens, Apollo asteroids have wider orbits. But, like their Aten counterparts, Apollo asteroids like 2019 YD3 follow trajectories that cross the orbit of Earth as it goes around the Sun.

If 2020 AZ1 and 2019 YD3 would collide with Earth during their near-intersections with the planet, they probably won’t cause an impact event on the planet. Aside from not being big enough, the two asteroids are not traveling fast enough to go through the Earth’s atmosphere.

Instead, they will burn up and explode in the sky before reaching the ground. Based on their sizes, the energy that would be released from their explosion could be equivalent to over 30 atomic bombs.

According to CNEOS, 2020 AZ1 will fly past Earth on Jan. 15 at 7:59 p.m. EST. During this time, the asteroid is expected to be about 0.02117 astronomical units or roughly 2 million miles from the planet’s center.

Meanwhile, 2019 YD3 will approach the planet on Jan. 15 at 11:34 a.m. EST from a distance of about 0.01761 astronomical units or around 1.6 million miles away.

Two Very Different Asteroids Image of two different asteroids captured by NASA. Photo: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL