Two asteroids will approach Earth this weekendBoth asteroids have Earth-intersecting orbitsOne of the asteroids could cause a major impact event
NASA’s asteroid tracking system is currently monitoring two space rocks that will visit Earth’s vicinity this weekend. One of the approaching asteroids is big enough to trigger an extinction-level event on the planet.
According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the first asteroid that will visit Earth on Saturday is known as 163373 (2002 PZ39). As indicated in CNEOS’ database, this asteroid has an estimated diameter of almost 3,250 feet, making it larger than the tallest man-made structure in the world.
CNEOS noted that this massive asteroid is currently traveling across the Solar System at an average speed of almost 34,000 miles per hour.
Trailing behind 163373 (2002 PZ39) is an asteroid known as 2020 BL14. Compared to 163373 (2002 PZ39), 2020 BL14 is much smaller with an estimated diameter of only 180 feet. It is also traveling at a slower speed of around 20,000 miles per hour.
Both approaching asteroids are members of the Apollo group of near-Earth Objects. These asteroids are known to have wide orbits within the Solar System. Occasionally, they would cross Earth’s path as they complete their cycle around the Sun.
Due to 163373 (2002 PZ39)’s massive size and natural orbit, it was labeled by CNEOS as a potentially hazardous asteroid. This means that aside from approaching Earth from close distances, this asteroid could also cause a major impact event if it collides with the planet.
Given its impressive size, 163373 (2002 PZ39) could create an explosion on Earth that’s powerful enough to fill the atmosphere with debris, blocking out the Sun. Without sunlight, Earth would experience a nuclear winter, which could trigger mass extinction events.
According to CNEOS, 163373 (2002 PZ39) will fly past Earth on Feb. 15 at 6:05 am EST. During its approach, the massive asteroid will be about 0.03860 astronomical units or roughly 3.6 million miles from the planet’s center.
2020 BL14, on the other hand, will make its debut in Earth’s vicinity on Feb. 16 at 10:29 a.m. EST. The asteroid is expected to approach Earth from a distance of around 0.04619 astronomical units, which is equivalent to about 4.3 million miles.
Over 17,000 near-Earth asteroids remain undetected in our solar neighborhood. Pictured; an artistic illustration of an asteroid flying by Earth. Photo: NASA