Asteroid 2020 SW passed close to the Earth on Thursday

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Asteroid 2020 SW

 An asteroid the size of an RV (15 to 32 ft long) named 2020 SW passed closer to Earth than the moon on Thursday.

The asteroid 2020 SW appeared brighter as it came nearer to the Earth. However,  without a telescope, it wasn’t visible to the naked eye. The Virtual Telescope Project provided a clear view and a live feed of the event on its website at 6 p.m. EDT (22:00 UTC) on Wednesday night.

The Near-Earth Object Observation Program and telescopes all over the world tracked Asteroid 2020SW, as it was passing within 13,000 miles (22,000 kilometers) of Earth. This asteroid wasn’t socially distancing.

For perspective, the moon is on average 238,900 miles (384,000 km) away from us. This equals the distance of 30 Earths. The asteroid passed within about two Earths. This means asteroid 2020 SW was closer than our television and weather satellites, which are in low-earth orbit.

It was close, but a safe encounter. The asteroid was traveling at a speed of about 17,200 mph (27,720 km)  the Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported. And we shouldn’t see 2020 SW again until it passes by on June 3, 2029.

Near-Earth Object Observation Program

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program is set up at the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) in Pasadena, California on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory facility.

NASA established CNEOS in 1998 and in 2005, Congress tasked them with locating 90% of all objects (460 feet or larger) that are close to or approaching the Earth. 

CNEOS has located around 19,000 near-Earth objects and continues to track them in space. These often rocky masses are big enough to cause damage to the planet, potentially destabilize the atmosphere, and affect crop production.

They confirm their sightings with telescopes and astronomers around the globe. Telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope allows scientists and researchers to discern minute details.

Dr. Masi and the Virtual Telescope Project

The Virtual Telescope Project is an online service provided by the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory in Italy and managed by Dr. Gianluca Masi, Ph.D. National Coordinator for Astronomers Without Borders in Italy.

The use of several real-time robotic telescopes, remotely-accessed online, allows people all over the world to gain a close-up view of the sky. And observe the planets and asteroids that astronomers and scientists view all the time.

“The Virtual Telescope is my last effort,” Dr. Masi said, “its goal is to offer to everyone in the world a chance to look at the Universe, even to those without an advanced instrument or resource, both for science and fun.” 

Coming soon: asteroid 2018VP1 on November 2, 2020

An asteroid named 2018 VP1 is scheduled to zoom past Earth on November 2. Americans will cast their vote for the next President of the United States the next day. 

“Asteroid 2018VP1 is very small, approx. 6.5 feet, and poses no threat to Earth!” NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office tweeted on August 23. “It currently has a 0.41% chance of entering our planet’s atmosphere but if it did, it would disintegrate due to its extremely small size.”

Sky-scanners discovered 2018 VP1 at the Zwicky Transient Facility at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in 2018. Because it’s so small, scientists have trouble tracking the tiny asteroid and plotting its trajectory.

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