An asteroid given the tag 2020 XU6 is gearing up for a near Earth approach. The space rock is hurtling through the solar system, and will come near Earth in the coming weeks. 2020 XU6 is a staggering 213 meters in length, making it more than twice the size of the iconic Statue of Liberty (93 meters).
The asteroid is zooming through the solar system at a staggering 8.4 kilometers per second.
This means it is travelling at 30,240 kilometers an hour, meaning it could travel around Earth in one hour.
For reference, the Moon takes 29 days to orbit our planet.
NASA said the asteroid will be at its closest to Earth on February 22.
“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.”
The space rock has also been deemed to be “potentially hazardous” by NASA.
However, it’s important to note that this asteroid is not expected to hit our Earth during the flyby. But in fact, there are processes by which asteroids and comets can be shifted from their orbits towards us.
NASA said: “Occasionally, asteroids’ orbital paths are influenced by the gravitational tug of planets, which cause their paths to alter.
“Scientists believe stray asteroids or fragments from earlier collisions have slammed into Earth in the past, playing a major role in the evolution of our planet.”
A force known as the Yarkovsky effect can also cause an asteroid to veer off-course. The effect occurs when a space rock is heated in direct sunlight and cools down to release radiation from its surface.
NASA said: “This radiation exerts a force on the asteroid, acting as a sort of mini-thruster that can slowly change the asteroid’s direction over time.”
However, this asteroid is deemed safe and NASA’s tracking systems have ruled out all possibility of danger.
The term ‘potentially hazardous’ does not mean that an asteroid poses an imminent threat to Earth.
Rather, it refers to the sentiment that somewhere down the line in the solar system’s future, an asteroid could collide with Earth.
NASA said: “Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are currently defined based on parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth.
“Specifically, all asteroids with a minimum orbit intersection distance (MOID) of 0.05 au or less are considered PHAs.”