A relatively small asteroid discovered a mere two days ago is due to skim Earth tomorrow, NASA has announced. The space rock is known as 2020 DM3 and will scrape past our planet in the early hours of the morning, coming extremely close to the terrestrial surface. NASA predicts that the object will reach its closest point to our planet at 5:17 a.m. ET. As it barrels past us at speeds of more than 35,300 mph, the asteroid will miss Earth by only 753,300 miles. To put that into perspective, that’s 3.17 times the distance between our planet and the moon.
While a close brush with an asteroid of any size can be a daunting thought, NASA assures that the swift flyby will be a perfectly safe one. According to a report published today by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the space rock has been extensively studied despite the short period of time elapsed since its discovery. Scientists performed a whopping 53 observations of the asteroid’s flight path in order to calculate its orbit, and determined that the object doesn’t pose a danger to our planet and will harmlessly cruise by Earth.
As NASA explains, the orbit of an asteroid is calculated by taking careful measurements of its movement across the sky and corroborating the data with computer models of the rock’s orbital path. Naturally, the more numerous these observations are and the longer scientists spend studying the object, the more accurate their orbit calculations become, leading to more precise predictions of the flyby parameters — speed, trajectory, proximity to Earth.
Orbital data gathered by the JPL revealed that 2020 DM3 is an Apollo-type asteroid, meaning that it can not only approach Earth but also cross the planet’s orbit. The rock zips around the sun once every 4.1 years but has never been to our corner of the solar system before. This makes tomorrow’s encounter a momentous one, especially since the asteroid is not expected to return anytime soon.
Size-wise, asteroid 2020 DM3 fares on the moderate side. Data from NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) places the rock within a size range of between 49 feet and 114 feet in diameter. The object is not the most meager space rock to swing through our neck of the cosmic woods since the beginning of 2020; however, it pales in comparison to the huge 656-foot Apollo asteroid that shot past Earth today.
Its close shave with our planet won’t be the end of its trip through the Earth-moon system. About an hour after its brush with Earth, the asteroid will fly past the moon, coming within 734,700 miles of its cratered surface. The rock will pass by Mars later this year and then exit the solar system.