On January 3 2021, a space rock is set to swing by the orbit of our planet in what NASA is describing as a “near Earth” passing. The asteroid is known as 2020 YA1, and at 16 meters wide, it is bigger than a double-decker bus. Observations from NASA show that the asteroid is zooming through the solar system at an astonishing 3.7 kilometers per second – or more than 13,000 kilometers per hour.
While that may seem an almost incomprehensible speed, it is actually relatively slow for a space rock.
The average space rock travels at a speed of anywhere between 11 kilometers per second and 72 kilometers per second.
NASA has revealed that the asteroid will fly by Earth at just 4.1 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
That is the equivalent of roughly 979,094 miles from our planet.
Although that seems like a sizeable distance, it is close enough for NASA to determine it to be a ‘near Earth object’.
NEOs are remnants of the solar system and as such NASA can use them to study the history of our host star and its orbiting planets.
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 neighborhood.
“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.
“As the primitive, leftover building blocks of the solar system formation process, comets and asteroids offer clues to the chemical mixture from which the planets formed some 4.6 billion years ago.
“If we wish to know the composition of the primordial mixture from which the planets formed, then we must determine the chemical constituents of the leftover debris from this formation process – the comets and asteroids.”
Even if the asteroid was on a collision course with our planet, it would pose no risk.
At 16 metres wide, the space rock would simply burn up in the atmosphere, similar to the Chelyabinsk incident.
In 2013, a 20-metre space rock hurtled towards Earth, making its way through the atmosphere before exploding above the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia.
The asteroid explosion was so powerful that it caused damage to more than 7,000 buildings and injured more than 1,400 people.