Asteroid alert: NASA tracks a large rock heading past Earth at 43,500mph – Will it hit?

The NASA-tracked asteroid is flying past Earth this week on what has been dubbed a “close approach” trajectory. The news comes less than two weeks after Asteroid 2020 AO was first confirmed in the solar system.

According to NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the asteroid was spotted on January 1, 2020.

NASA has since tracked the space rock’s movements 42 times over seven days to determine its size, speed and trajectory.

NASA determined Asteroid 2020 is an Apollo-type NEO or Near-Earth Object rapidly approaching the Earth for a January 14, flyby.

Apollo-type rocks cross Earth’s orbit on a trajectory similar to Asteroid 1862 Apollo.

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NEOs will also often come close to Earth, forcing agencies like NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) to keep a watchful eye on any threatening object.

NASA said: “Since their orbital paths often cross that of the Earth, collisions with near-Earth objects have occurred in the past and we should remain alert to the possibility of future close Earth approaches.

“It seems prudent to mount efforts to discover and study these objects, to characterise their sizes, compositions and structures and to keep an eye upon their future trajectories.”

On Tuesday, Asteroid AO is expected to approach Earth around 6.13pm GMT (1.13pm EST).

When this happens, NASA estimates the rock will be moving at speeds of around 19.47 km per second.

Space rocks smaller than about 25m – about 82ft – will most likely burn up

NASA

In other words, the asteroid will swing by our planet at speeds of about 43,553mph (70,092km/h).

NASA further estimates Asteroid AO measures somewhere in the range of 121.4ft to 269ft (37m to 82m) across.

An asteroid this big would most likely survive the fiery descent through Earth’s atmosphere, should it ever strike the planet.

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At the upper end of NASA’s size estimate, the rock is just 32ft (10m) shorter than the Statue of Liberty in New York, US.

At the lower end of NASA’s estimate, the asteroid is comparable to four London double-decker buses lined up in a row.

NASA said: “Space rocks smaller than about 25m – about 82ft – will most likely burn up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere and cause little or no damage.

“If a rocky meteoroid larger than 25m but smaller than one kilometre – a little more than half-a-mile – were to hit Earth, it would likely cause local damage to the impact area.”

When a much smaller object exploded in the skies over Russia’s Chelyabinsk oblast in 2013, the resulting arblast injure more than 1,000 with shards of glass from blown-out windows.

Will the Asteroid AO hit the planet tomorrow?

The good news is the NASA-tracked body will not come close enough to pose any real danger to Earth.

At its closest, the space rock will approach Earth from a distance of about 2.2 million miles (3.58 million km).

NASA said: “As they orbit the Sun, Near-Earth Objects can occasionally approach close to Earth.

“Note that a ‘close’ passage astronomically can be very far away in human terms: millions or even tens of millions of kilometres.”

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