Asteroid the size of a BUS will fly by Earth tomorrow

Katie Ramirez
September 25, 2020

While the proximity to Earth might raise alarm, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California said even if the asteroid had entered the earth's atmosphere, it nearly certainly would have broken up and become a bright meteor. The asteroid, roughly between 4.5 to 9 meters wide, is pretty small compared to some of the other space rocks that have had close contact with Earth.

It was first discovered on September 18, 2020, by the Mt. Lemmon Observatory in Arizona, but it has made close approaches since September 1975, according to NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). Orbiting the Earth is the location of a typical geosynchronous satellite (labeled "GEOSAT"), orbiting 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above Earth's equator.

Asteroid 2020 SW was discovered earlier this month on September 18 by the Catalina Sky Survey. "In fact, asteroids of this size impact our atmosphere at an average rate of about once every year or two" said Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. However, as the image above shows, by then, the asteroid will be below the satellite ring and beneath Earth.

Once it's gone, the asteroid won't be back in Earth's neighborhood until 2041.

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The space agency says they believe there are over 100 million small asteroids like 2020 SW, but they are hard to discover unless they get very close to Earth.

The shape of asteroid 2020 SW's 373-day orbit around the Sun marks it as an Apollo asteroid - an Earth-crossing asteroid that spends all of its time between the orbits of Venus and Mars. However, if 2020 SW were to hit Earth, it would likely break up high in the atmosphere and become a 'fireball', according to NASA.

"The detection capabilities of NASA's asteroid surveys are continually improving", Dr. Chodas said.

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