Asteroid approach: NASA tracks a large rock heading past Earth at 37,000MPH – Will it hit?

The asteroid, dubbed by NASA Asteroid 2020 BP, is flying towards Earth on a “close approach” trajectory. NASA estimates the rock is hurling through space at about 37,356mph (60,120km/h).

At this rate, the US space agency said Asteroid BP will reach Earth on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 21.

NASA predicts the rock will close in on the planet around 5.14pm GMT (12.14pm EST).

Asteroid BP is an Apollo-type rock trapped on an orbit that crosses paths with Earth’s own path around the Sun.

NASA’s systems have pegged it down as an NEO or Near-Earth Object, meaning it can come incredibly close to Earth.

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NASA said: “As they orbit the Sun, NEOs 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.”

NASA’s systems first confirmed Asteroid BP’s orbit on January 18 but the US space agency already has a fairly good idea where the asteroid is headed and how big it is.

Based on NASA’s observations, the space rock measures somewhere in the range of 68.89ft to 154ft (21m to 47m) across.

At the lower end of the estimate, the asteroid is too small to survive the fiery descent through Earth’s atmosphere.

But the space rock could still pack a punch if it decided to hit the planet, as demonstrated by the 2013 Chelyabinsk incident.

This was a cosmic wake-up call

Lindley Johnson, NASA

When an undetected space rock slipped into the atmosphere over Russia’s Chelyabinsk Oblast, the space rock violently exploded and injured more than 1,000 people with shards of blown-out window glass.

Astronomers estimate the Chelyabinsk meteor only measured around 65.6ft (20m) across but its blast was 10 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson said: “The Chelyabinsk event drew widespread attention to what more needs to be done to detect even larger asteroids before they strike our planet. This was a cosmic wake-up call.”

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At the upper end of BP’s size estimate, the asteroid is more than twice as big as the Chelyabinsk meteor.

An object of this size could cause significant damage if it ever struck a populated area.

The asteroid is comparable in height to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, and the Chicago Water Tower in Chicago, US.

But is there any real danger from the asteroid tomorrow?

The good news is NASA does not expect the space rock to strike the planet anytime soon.

At its closest, the asteroid will approach the planet from a distance of about 0.00944 astronomical units.

A single astronomical unit measures the distance between our planet and the Sun – about 93 million miles (149.6 million km).

In other words, the asteroid will safely approach us from a distance of about 877,502 miles (1.41 million km).

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