Tomorrow is shaping up to be an eventful day in terms of close asteroid encounters, as a cluster of five space rocks is expected to approach planet Earth throughout the day, NASA has announced. The agency's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) has issued several reports regarding the swarm of asteroids due to fly our way on February 22, and assures that all of these flybys will be perfectly safe and won't pose any threat to our planet.
According to CNEOS, the first four near-Earth objects (NEOs) to traipse through our corner of space on Saturday fall into the category of Apollo-type asteroids -- space rocks that can not only approach Earth, but also cross the planet's orbit. The remaining celestial visitor greatly differs from the others and is classified as an Amor-type asteroid.
As NASA explains, this designation indicates that the rock's orbital path around the sun can bring it close to our planet without it actually intersecting Earth's orbit.
The five asteroids will approach Earth at different times of the day and pass at different distances from our planet, the closest one only getting some 1.3 million miles from the terrestrial surface. To put that into perspective, that's a little over 5.5 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
Also notable is the fact that the four Apollo asteroids have all been recently discovered, while the Amor asteroid has been on NASA's radar for quite a while, having been first spotted nearly nine years ago.
The series of asteroid flybys will kick off with a visit from a 118-foot space rock known as asteroid 2020 DJ. The object is traveling at about 7,800 mph, or 10.1 times the speed of sound. The rock is expected to reach Earth shortly after midnight, and will cruise by at 12:57 a.m. ET. NASA predicts that the asteroid will get within 2.2 million miles of Earth, or 9.2 times the distance to the moon.
The space rock was first detected in the last day of 2019 and has been found to circle the sun once every 1.48 years, frequently passing through our corner of the solar system as it does so. The asteroid previously visited Earth in 2017 and 2016, and is expected to return in 2022 and 2023.
The second celestial visitor of the day will be the smallest and the closest one of the bunch. The rock is dubbed asteroid 2020 DR and is believed to be only 101-feet wide. The object will pass by Earth in the early hours of the afternoon, reaching its closest point to our planet at 1:01 p.m. ET. Unlike its predecessor, asteroid 2020 DR is a lot faster and will zoom past us at 25,500 mph.
The small-scale Apollo asteroid was discovered only five days ago, on February 16, and is also a regular visitor of our cosmic neighborhood, just like 2020 DJ. The rock orbits the sun once every 1.16 years and has performed four Earth flybys in the past 64 years, the last one occurring in 2014. The asteroid will make a return trip in 2021, and then again in 2027 and 2029.
The third rock to swing by tomorrow is the fastest of the group and will approach Earth at a phenomenal speed of more than 60,000 mph. The object is a 170-foot Apollo asteroid known as 2020 DC1 and will hurtle past Earth exactly two minutes after the close encounter with 2020 DR. The rock is predicted to fly 3.3 million miles from Earth, per NASA's orbital calculations. That's more than 13.8 times the distance to the moon.
Asteroid 2020 DC1 has been on NASA's scope for four days and is currently engaged in its first-ever trip through our neck of the cosmic woods. The space rock takes 1.14 years to orbit the sun and is expected to make a pass by Mercury later this year.
After tomorrow's flyby, there will be a long time before the rock pops by for another visit. The asteroid won't return to the inner solar system for 140 years, making its second Earth flyby in 2161.
The swift rock will be followed by another fast asteroid cruising through the void of space at more than 45,850 mph. The fourth and final Apollo asteroid to approach Earth tomorrow will also be the heftiest of the entire group. The rock is dubbed 2020 DB2 and measures 190 feet in diameter -- nearly two-thirds the size of the Statue of Liberty. The asteroid will swoop by for its close approach to Earth at 3:55 p.m. ET, and will buzz our planet from a little further away than its predecessor, coming some 3.4 million miles from the planet's surface -- or 14.4 times the lunar distance.
The rock was spotted a mere three days ago. After carefully studying its orbital path, NASA scientists determined that the asteroid completes a full orbit around the sun in 2.37 years. Just like 2020 DC1, asteroid 2020 DB2 has never been to our corner of space before. Following Saturday's flyby, the rock will disappear for 45 years, only to resurface in 2065.
The multi-asteroid flyby will conclude with 2011 DR, the only Amor asteroid of the cluster. The object is estimated to measure 134 feet across and is traveling at a cruising speed of 13,040 mph. The rock will shoot past Earth at 7:16 p.m. ET, coming a little under 3.5 million miles from the planet's surface -- or just over 14.6 times the distance to the moon.
Asteroid 2011 DR is a frequent flyer through Earth's neighborhood. The rock journeys around the sun every 1.29 years, passing by Earth and occasionally by Mars as it circles the giant star. The last time the asteroid paid Earth a visit was on February 22, 2011 -- and before that on February 23, 2002.
The rock won't return to our planet's vicinity any time soon, but is expected to venture by Mars 73 years from now, in 2093.