Massive Near-Earth Object to pass by Earth this week

A potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA)will be swinging by our little corner of the universe this week. Some Earthlings are worried about whether it will impact, while others want to know if it will be visible from our green planet.

Asteroid 2020ND — Here’s what you need to know

Asteroid 2020ND will fly by Earth on Friday, 24 July 2020. Sadly, it won’t be visible to the naked eye, although those using powerful telescopes could catch a glimpse as it flies by Earth.

How big is Asteroid 2020ND?

The asteroid, which is said to make London look like a speck on the map, measures 170 metres in diameter and will come within 0.034 astronomical units (AU) of Earth. Even an Asteroid 1 metre in diameter could cause significant damage on impact.

To explain why that is a cause of concern, the distance between Earth and the Sun is approximately 0.024 AU, or 3.2 million miles. It’s close enough for NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) to classify Asteroid 2020ND as a PHA.

What is a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA)?

According to NASA, a PHA is defined based on “parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to Earth”. That means that an asteroid will be classified as a PHA if comes within 0.05 AU of Earth.

“Specifically, all asteroids with a minimum orbit intersection distance (MOID) of 0.05 au or less are considered PHAs.”

Will Asteroid 2020ND impact Earth?

No, it will not, thankfully. That said, NASA believes that there is a one in 300 000 chance each year that Earth could cross he unfortunate path with a hazardous space rock.

Being classified as a PHA does not mean that an asteroid will impact the Earth. […] By continuing to observe and track asteroids, their orbits can be refined and more precise predictions made of their future close approaches and impact probabilities.

NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Asteroids that could potentially impact Earth in future

Asteroid 2009 JF1 was discovered more than a decade ago. It measures only 12 metres in diameter. It is expected to fly by or hit Earth in 2022.

Another tiny asteroid, known as 2018 VP1, is expected to arrive at some point between 2020 and 2025. The largest asteroid on NASA’s doomsday list isn’t actually expected to come into contact with Earth until the year 2880.

That mister of a space rock is called 29075 (1950 DA), and it is almost three times as big as the Empire State Building; roughly 1.3 kilometres in diameter. It could cause significant damage if it impacts Earth.

Also read — Astronaut takes incredible images of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria [photos]

NASA’s DART Program

DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) is NASA’s weapon against hazardous space rocks. It is part of the Asteroid Impact and Deflecion Assessment (AIDA) and is currently under construction.

NASA plans to have the DART system up and running by Thursday, 22 July 2021. Its target is Didymos, a binary near-Earth asteroid. NASA plans to use DART in 2022 to slam into a smaller asteroid in the Didymos system.

While the Didymos primary body is approximately 780 metres across, its secondary body, or “moonlet”, is about 160-metres in size, which is more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose the most likely significant threat to Earth. NASA explains:

The collision will change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of one percent, but this will change the orbital period of the moonlet by several minutes – enough to be observed and measured using telescopes on Earth.

NASA Planetary Defense

For a successful joint mission, DART would impact the Didymos moonlet in October 2022 while AIM would first characterise the target asteroid (surface and internal properties), observe the impact event and measure any change in the relative orbit. Protection Status

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