An asteroid nearly half the size of Mount Everest might be on a collision course for Earth in less than a year
- The Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) predicts that a 4 kilometer wide asteroid is going to fly awfully close to the Earth in 2020.
- The asteroid 1998 OR2 could also get pushed into a collision course directly for Earth because of the Yarkovsky effect and gravitational keyholes.
- The massive asteroid could have devastating effects if it were to fall to Earth.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies ( CNEOS) estimates that the asteroid, dubbed at 1998 OR2, will be around 6.3 million kilometers from the Earth’s core when it passes by on 29 April 2020.
But, there’s a chance that it will be much closer — and even on a direct collision course with Earth — if there’s any nudge to the asteroid’s current trajectory.
What can push the asteroid to Earth?
There are two main factors in space that can affect the orbit of an asteroid — one, the Yarkovsky effect and two, a gravitational keyhole. And, both, could either push the asteroid closer to Earth or, if one is lucky, further away.
The Yarkovsky effect, simply put, is when an asteroid gets pushed around by sunlight. The effect of light hitting an asteroid is minute, but as it happens over a longer period of time — it tends to add up.
The shorter the wavelength, the more energy it has and thus the bigger the resulting push.
When it comes a gravitational keyhole, on the other hand, the change in an asteroid’s orbit is more immediate. But unlike the Yarkovsky effect, where sunlight is all around, gravitational keyholes only occur in tiny regions of space.
If the 1998 OR2 were to pass through a gravitational keyhole — any spot in space where the asteroid’s orbit could get affected by the gravity of a nearby planet — it has the potential to push the asteroid into a direct collision course with Earth.
The point of concern is that if the asteroid is to hit Earth, there’s very little that anyone can do about it. As of now, most space agencies around the world are still working on their planetary defense strategies.
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