NASA has revealed three major asteroids will whiz passed the planet in the next few days, all of which the space agency has described as “near Earth”. Near-Earth Objects (NEO) occasionally make a “close approach” to Earth, however, they pose no threat to Earth and only means they come within 0.05 au of Earth (4,647,790 miles) of our planet.
The first asteroid in the coming sequence is tonight, known as 2020 KY.
Asteroid 2020 KY is bigger than a double decker bus, and will shoot safely by the planet at a distance of 4.1 million miles.
Come June 11, two space rocks will swing by Earth – asteroid 2020 JQ2, which is roughly the size of a passenger plane and will by 3.6 million miles from Earth, and asteroid 2020 JS1, which will get very close at a distance of 2.3 million miles.
All of the space rocks have been described as “near-Earth objects” (NEOs) by NASA.
NASA said on its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) website: “NEOs are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood.
“The scientific interest in comets and asteroids is due largely to their status as the relatively unchanged remnant debris from the solar system formation process some 4.6 billion years ago.
“The giant outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) formed from an agglomeration of billions of comets and the left over bits and pieces from this formation process are the comets we see today.
“Likewise, today’s asteroids are the bits and pieces left over from the initial agglomeration of the inner planets that include Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.”
While the chances of a major asteroid hitting Earth are small – NASA believes there is a one in 300,000 chance every year that a space rock which could cause regional damage will hit – the devastating prospect is not impossible.
However, there are some plans on the go which could help Earth against potential asteroid strikes.
NASA is currently studying Asteroid Bennu, where its OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft arrived in 2018.
Part of the reason NASA is sending the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft there is to gather more information about the space rock which is 1,640ft (500m) in length.
NASA fears the asteroid, which has the potential to wipe out a country on Earth, could hit our planet within the next 120 years, with the next close flyby in 2135.
The mission will give vital information on how to deflect asteroids from their collision course with Earth, but NASA reiterates while there is a small chance Earth could be impacted, “over millions of years, of all of the planets, Bennu is most likely to hit Venus”.