Asteroid news: NASA reveals ‘hazardous’ asteroid bigger than London Eye on close approach

Asteroid 2020ND is a truly monstrous space rock, measuring in at 170 metres – and it is going to make a close approach to Earth in just a few days. The whopping space rock is almost 1.5 times the size of the London Eye, which is 135 metres in height. And NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have revealed the asteroid will make its closest approach to Earth on July 24, when it will come within just 0.034 astronomical units (AU) of our planet.

One AU (149,598,000 km) is the distance between the Earth and the Sun, so come Saturday, the asteroid will be 5,086,327 kilometres from our planet – a hair’s width in astronomical terms.

The space rock is also travelling at a staggering 13.5 kilometres per second – or 48,000 kilometres per hour.

At 0.034 AU, NASA has described the object as a “potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA)”.

The space agency said: “Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are currently defined based on parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth.

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

Due to its relative closeness, it is also a near Earth object (NEO), giving the space agency the perfect opportunity to study it.

NASA said on its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) website: “NEOs are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood.

“The scientific interest in comets and asteroids is due largely to their status as the relatively unchanged remnant debris from the solar system formation process some 4.6 billion years ago.

“The giant outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) formed from an agglomeration of billions of comets and the left over bits and pieces from this formation process are the comets we see today.

“Likewise, today’s asteroids are the bits and pieces left over from the initial agglomeration of the inner planets that include Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.”

While the chances of a major asteroid hitting Earth are small – NASA believes there is a one in 300,000 chance every year that a space rock which could cause regional damage will hit – the devastating prospect is not impossible.

However, there are some plans on the go which could help Earth against potential asteroid strikes.

NASA is currently studying Asteroid Bennu, where its OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft arrived in 2018.

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Part of the reason NASA is sending the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft there is to gather more information about the space rock which is 1,640ft (500m) in length.

NASA fears the asteroid, which has the potential to wipe out a country on Earth, could hit our planet within the next 120 years, with the next close flyby in 2135.

The mission will give vital information on how to deflect asteroids from their collision course with Earth, but NASA reiterates while there is a small chance Earth could be impacted, “over millions of years, of all of the planets, Bennu is most likely to hit Venus”.

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