Close approach

  

Next week, Earth is in for a brush with a swift asteroid that will come extremely close to the planet’s surface, NASA has announced. The space rock is known as asteroid 2020 BJ7 and is an Apollo-type asteroid that orbits the sun once every 1.9 years. The object is not particularly large but is incredibly fast, and is hurtling through space at formidable speeds of more than 45,000 mph. The rock will skim Earth from a very short distance, flying nearly as close as the moon.

Size-wise, the near-Earth asteroid fares somewhat on the smaller side. The rock — which was discovered a mere two days ago — is estimated to measure no more than 49 feet in diameter. As such, the object is only a little smaller than the famous Chelyabinsk meteor that penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere nearly seven years ago. Though only slightly larger than asteroid 2020 BJ7, the meteor caused a substantial amount of damage when it exploded in the sky over Russia on February 15, 2013, destroying more than 7,200 buildings and injuring nearly 1,500 people.

Thankfully, the tiny asteroid won’t give us any cause for concern when it comes swooping by in two days’ time. NASA assures that the rock will safely pass by our planet and uneventfully exit the inner solar system as it circles the sun.

According to a report released yesterday by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the small-scale asteroid is expected to approach Earth in the pre-dawn hours of January 28. The rock will zoom past us at 2:58 a.m. ET, buzzing Earth from just 288,300 miles away. To put that into perspective, that’s about 1.24 times the distance to the moon — which sits at an average 238,900 miles from Earth.

However, the close brush with Earth won’t be the end of this asteroid’s trip through our cosmic neighborhood. The rock will stick around for a few more hours and swing by the moon just in time for the morning coffee. NASA predicts that the tiny asteroid will fly past the lunar surface at 7:25 a.m. ET, coming in even a tad closer at an approach distance of 251,100 miles.

Interestingly enough, next week’s close encounter will be the asteroid’s first approach to Earth in quite a long time — 61 years, to be exact. After calculating the rock’s orbit, JPL scientists were able to pinpoint the dates of the object’s previous close approaches and discovered that the list was quite a short one. In the past, the asteroid visited Earth only one other time, in 1959, when it only managed to creep in some 1.2 million miles from the terrestrial surface. Following its upcoming flyby, the space rock is not expected to return any time soon.

Tuesday’s close asteroid encounter comes just three days after another tiny asteroid traipsed through the Earth-moon system on Saturday, scraping past our planet from just 37,200 miles away.