No one saw the bus-sized asteroid (2020 JJ) coming until it flew just past us, some 4,350 miles (7,000 kilometers) over the Pacific Ocean. According to the Watchers website, 2020 JJ’s approach is the 40th known asteroid to flyby Earth since the start of the year and the second of the month. This is also the closest asteroid flyby since October 31, 2019 (2019 UN13), and the 6th closest asteroid flyby on record.
A massive space rock just missed us in what is regarded as one of the closest possess by our planet to date. The asteroid whose existence had been confirmed only when it flew above us reminds us that not all space objects can be traced and tracked by NASA. NASA is known for their ample, online database of close approaches by asteroids and other near-Earth objects. This history can be traced back more than one hundred years, to around 1900.
The asteroid, whose official destination is 2020 JJ, was discovered on the date of its closest approach (May 4) to Earth by astronomers using the Mt. Lemmon Survey in Arizona.
The space rock is regarded as the sixth closest approach of a space object to Earth ever recorded, spanning back 120 years in a history of record keeping. Throughout the years, we’ve upped our game and installed better technology that allows us to track and find potentially hazardous near-Earth objects. Interestingly, the top ten close approaches can be traced back to a period starting in 2004.
Although 2020 JJ isn’t a doomsday asteroid, the fact that we’ve not seen it coming is a telltale sign that we should invest more in tracking potentially hazardous space objects. 2020 JJ is estimated to have a diameter of around 20 feet (2.7 to 6 meters) across. According to astronomers, 2020 JJ is a maker of the so-called Eos family, the largest asteroid family in the other main belt. IT consists of more than 10,000 asteroids.
Had the asteroid changed its course and impacted Earth, most of its core would have burned up in the atmosphere during entry, and it may have probably exploded before even touching the ground. This means that such smaller asteroids don’t really present a threat to our civilization, but knowing that there are objects out there that we don’t know about is certainly food for thought. Imagine if the size of the asteroid was that of 1998 OR2, which made headlines recently. NASA estimated that the asteroid 1998 OR2 was between 1.1 miles and 2.5 miles (1.8 to 4.1 kilometers) wide. It passed Earth at a safe distance of 3.9 million miles/6.2 million kilometers.
NASA classifies asteroids and comets as potentially hazardous if they come within less than 4.6 million miles (7.5 million km) from Earth. Luckily, 1998 OR2 passed at 16 times the distance to our moon.
Close-runs like that of asteroid 2020 JJ aren’t really anything we should worry about. However, we need to put more effort into searching the solar system for potentially hazardous objects that may get too close for comfort.