NASA’s asteroid tracker has confirmed that an asteroid dubbed as “potentially hazardous” will come incredibly close to Earth next week. The asteroid, estimated to be around the size of Moscow’s Ostankino Tower, will swing by Earth at a distance of 0.03 astronomical units on Friday, January 10, 2020.
NASA labels the near-Earth objects as potentially hazardous which are within a range of 0.05 astronomical units of Earth and measure more than 140 metres in size. One astronomical unit is the average distance between the Sun and the Earth, which is around 93 million miles or 149.6 million km.
As per NASA’s asteroid tracker, the asteroid ‘2019 UO’ measures between 250 metres to 550 metres, and will pass the Earth at a speed of 9.4 km per second, making it a possible threat to Earth.
NASA’s Planetary Defence Coordination page explains that small asteroids a few meters in size are detected passing between Earth and Moon several times a month. Small fragments of asteroids and comets hit Earth’s atmosphere and explode virtually every day, causing the bright meteor events. Sometimes these objects leave remnants on the ground as meteorites.
The space agency tracks such near-Earth objects not because they are an imminent threat but to ensure that they do not become threats in the future. Asteroids and comets rarely strike Earth but the gravitational effects of other bodies in the solar system could route them to an Earth-bound trajectory.
Thankfully, NASA does not expect Asteroid 2019 OU to come close enough next Friday to strike the Earth, at least on its current flyby. As already mentioned, the asteroid will come as close as 0.03 astronomical units. NASA expects that the asteroid 2019 OU will visit Earth again on November 18, 2032.