Bus-size asteroid to zoom by Earth, ducking below satellites

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA (AP) — An asteroid the size of a school bus is headed our way, but NASA said the space rock will zoom safely past Earth soon.

The newly discovered asteroid will come within 22,000 kilometres of Earth, well below many of the communications satellites orbiting the planet, scientists said this week. The closest approach occured yesterday morning over the southeastern Pacific Ocean.

Once it’s gone, the asteroid won’t be back to Earth’s neighbourhood until 2041.

Scientists estimate the asteroid is between 4.5 metres to nine metres. By asteroid standards, that’s considered puny. Asteroids of this size hit Earth’s atmosphere and burn up once every year or two, said Director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Paul Chodas. There could be as many as 100 million of these little asteroids out there.

The real threat are considerably bigger asteroids. The good news is that these are easier to spot much sooner than just a few days out.

Asteroid 2020 SW, as it is known, was discovered last Friday by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Image from a video by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies shows the path of asteroid 2020 SW as it safely passes Earth yesterday. PHOTO: AP