Asteroid approaches near Earth are no longer a rare occurrence to observe, thanks to NASA’s Centre for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) initiative. Operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology, CNEOS now maintains a publicly available data sheet of near-Earth asteroids, which includes both historic data, as well as asteroids that are expected to fly past Earth in relatively close quarters. As per the data, there are 48 asteroids of varying sizes, which are slated to approach Earth at a minimum orbit intersection distance (MOID) of less than 0.05 AU (~7.48 million km). It is this orbit distance, coupled with visual magnitude (denoted as H) of 22 or above, that classifies an asteroid as a ‘potentially hazardous’ one, even if it does not necessarily mean that life on Earth will be threatened by it. Taking these data points into consideration, here are six asteroids that are almost 200 metres or larger in diameter, and are scheduled to fly past Earth in close proximity in 2020.
The most immediate threat comes to Earth as early as tomorrow, July 21, when asteroid 2002 BF25 is slated to whoosh past our planet. 2002 BF25 measures 220m in diameter at its widest point, and is expected to be about 3.6 million kilometres from Earth at its closest approach. With H value of 22.2, the asteroid 2002 BF25 qualifies as a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA), and is one of the larger space rocks to come near our planet this year.
Following up later this week is the asteroid 2020 ND, which is 260m large at its widest point, and has designated H value of almost 22. Scheduled to fly by on July 24, asteroid 2020 ND will thankfully be further away from Earth, and approach our planet at a distance of about 5.57 million kilometres at its nearest orbit intersection with Earth.
The asteroid 2009 PQ1 is the smallest of the big asteroids in this list, measuring 190m in diameter at its widest point. It will come to its closest distance with Earth on August 5, when it will be at a distance of 4.12 million kilometres from our planet. However, its H value of 22.5 is also the highest in this list, which yet again squarely classifies it as a PHA, as per NASA’s CNEOS data. Don’t be alarmed, though – 2009 PQ1’s passage should be perfectly safe, and not pose any imminent threat to us.
465824 2010 FR
Asteroid 465824 2010 FR’s close approach to Earth will be the farthest among all the large space rocks floating around us, where at about 7.4 million kilometres away, its orbit intersection with Earth is at the upper limit of what is considered ‘hazardous’. 2010 FR is 270m large in diameter at its widest point, and has visibility value of 21.7. It is expected to safely fly past Earth on September 6.
153201 2000 WO107
The most monstrous asteroid slated to approach Earth within the remaining six months of 2020 is 153201 2000 WO107, which at its largest point, has a diameter of 820m – almost as large as eight football pitches in length, and only slightly smaller than the height of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. This mammoth space rock will approach Earth at a distance of 4.3 million kilometres on November 29, and has designated H value of 19.3, which thankfully cuts it out from NASA-CNEOS’ PHA classification list.
501647 2014 SD224
The final big space rock to fly past Earth this year is asteroid 501647 2014 SD224, which will approach us on December 25. Of all the large boulders hurtling along space, 2014 SD224 will come the closest to Earth, with its orbit intersection being 3.02 million kilometres from Earth. It is far smaller than the 2000 WO107’s 820m size, but at 210m wide, 2014 SD224 is large enough as well. Its H value of 22.3 also classifies it as a PHA, and makes for one of the largest asteroids that tick all the checkboxes for being a potentially threatening one for Earth.