As if 2020 weren’t overwhelming enough, in addition to the potential start of World War 3, the massive fires in Australia, the locust plague in the Middle East and Africa, and the novel coronavirus, we are now dealing with multiple asteroids hurtling towards Earth. One of the asteroids may even collide with Earth’s atmosphere resulting in an atmospheric explosion tonight!
Two asteroids following Earth’s intersecting orbit known as 2020 EF and 2020 DP4 are approaching the planet, and information collected by NASA indicates the space rocks are big enough to create violent explosions in the atmosphere if they come too close to the Earth.
The asteroids are being closely monitored by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).
According to a report by IB Times, CNEOS estimates the 2020 EF asteroid has a diameter of 98 feet, making it a little longer than the distance between baseball diamond bases, with a velocity of 10,000 mph.
CNEOS sates that 2020 EF is what is known as an Aten asteroid, which means the object follows a normal orbit that crosses Earth’s path. NASA’s orbit diagram for 2020 EF shows the asteroid mimics a very wide orbit around the sun and almost follows the exact same path as Earth. The good news is NASA states in their diagram that the asteroid will have multiple near-approaches between 2020 EF and our planet—but it won’t hit us.
According to NASA, as a result of their size, 2020 EF will most likely not cause an impact event. Instead, it will break up into pieces if it enters Earth’s atmosphere. However, it will still cause an explosion in the sky that could be dangerous.
The last asteroid atmospheric explosion took place over the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia, which produced a flash 30 times brighter than the Sun and caused 180 cases of eye pain and 70 cases of temporary flash blindness.
So make sure you don’t stare at it with the naked eye, similar to how you shouldn’t stare directly at the sun, no matter how curious you may be.
2020 DP4 is coming our way and will cause a similar space spectacle this week on March 22nd at 2:36 p.m EST. Compared to 2020 EF, 2020 DP4 is much larger in diameter at 180 feet wide and traveling at a faster velocity rate at 18,000 mph according to CNEOS.
While 2020 EF is classified as an Aten asteroid, 2020 DP4 on the other hand belongs to the Apollo family of space rocks. Although the two asteroids are labeled differently, they are known to intersect Earth’s orbit as the planet makes its way around the Sun.
CNEOS states 2020 EF is expected to fly past the Earth from a distance of 0.04241 astronomical units or approximately 4 million miles. Meanwhile, 2020 DP4 will approach Earth from a much closer distance which according to CNEOS, is only 0.00901 astronomical units or around 840,000 miles.
While NASA has expressed that both asteroids won’t collide directly with the Earth, last year NASA and the U.S. government’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) participated in an exercise with other international partners to deal with asteroids that could be a future impact danger. Last year, NASA also awarded SpaceX a $69 million contract to redirect an asteroid off its intended path under the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) program, which uses a technique known as a kinetic impactor. The mission involves sending one or more SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets into the path of an approaching near-earth object, in this case, Didymos’ small moon in October 2022.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is also involved in that joint mission to slam a probe into the asteroid Didymos’ small moon.
Next month a third asteroid is expected to come close to hitting Earth called 52768 (1998 OR2). First spotted in 1998, the space rock much bigger than 2020 FE and 2020 DP4, at 1.1 – 2.5 miles wide, is expected to pass within around 4million miles—or about 17 times the distance from Earth to the Moon, moving at a velocity of 19,461 miles per hour. CNEOS states that the third asteroid will fly by the Earth on April 29, at 4:56 a.m. EST.
According to CNN, NASA also reassures that 52768 (1998 OR2) will not hit the Earth despite worries with its classification as “potentially hazardous.” However, the asteroid is “large enough to cause global effects,” according to NASA.
The next potential asteroid that could cause significant damage if it hit Earth is expected to fly through our solar system and pass near Earth on April 13, 2029. The giant icy space rock—known as 99942 Apophis, for the Egyptian God of Chaos—is 1,100 feet wide (340 meters) and will speed by at over 67,000 miles per hour. According to NASA, Apophis has a 2.7% chance to hit Earth—a very low probability.
Thankfully we shouldn’t expect an Independence Day scenario any time soon.