School bus-size asteroid to make close, but safe, pass by Earth Thursday

Tiny asteroids pass close to Earth several times a year, per NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Illustration of asteroid 2020 SW per NASA/JPL-Caltech (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

ROANOKE, Va. – This may seem like an attempt to join the “OMG 2020” crowd, but asteroid passes almost always get the attention of the internet no matter the year. When I first read about Asteroid 2020 SW making a close pass by Earth, I decided to check with Tony Rice. He’s an ambassador to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and we rely on him most often for space-related news.

Rice replied with information from NASA’s JPL that confirms an asteroid (15 to 30 feet wide) will make a “close” pass by Earth Thursday morning. At its closest, this space rock will be 13,000 miles above the earth’s surface. That’s beneath the satellites we use for weather forecasting. These satellites orbit the earth at roughly 20,000 miles away.

Despite its closeness to Earth, it’s not expected to impact us. Even if it did, it would likely burn up upon entry to our atmosphere and appear as a fireball.

Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, says “Asteroids of this size impact our atmosphere at an average rate of about once every year or two.”

This particular asteroid was discovered on September 18th by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona. After its close pass over the Pacific Ocean, the asteroid will continue its orbit around the sun only to return near Earth (not as close) in 2041.

Detection of these smaller asteroids is more difficult because they aren’t as bright as larger ones. However, NASA says detection has been improving.

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