Asteroids approach our planet from time to time. Usually, these are completely new objects that are discovered just a few days before they approach to a minimum distance. However, some “space rocks” approach the Earth quite regularly. Here is a story about four of them that pose the greatest threat in 2024.
How often do asteroids approach the Earth?
Quite often, the media reports that an asteroid will soon approach the Earth. This news is usually sensationalized, although scientists usually explain in detail that there is no chance of a collision between the celestial body and our planet and that it will fly at a distance of tens or hundreds of thousands of kilometers.
In most cases, however, the upcoming approach becomes known a few weeks, days, or even hours before the event, since no one has ever seen this asteroid before. Therefore, it is impossible to make any forecast of such convergences for the year. They can happen at any time.
However, humanity already knows many near-Earth asteroids that regularly approach our planet. At least four of them will come close to us this year.
On February 4, the asteroid 2011 MD will approach our planet. This celestial body was discovered in June 2011. Initially, it was even considered a piece of space debris — the last stage of a launch vehicle launched from Earth. But later, scientists found that it was a “space rock” about 6 meters in size.
The period of the 2011 MD’s orbit around the Sun is 380 to 396 days, meaning that it approaches the Earth more or less regularly. In 2011, it flew to a distance of only 12 thousand kilometers, which is three times closer than the orbit of geostationary satellites. However, on February 4, 2024, it will pass at a distance of 0.1 AU from us, or about 15 million km.
The fame of 2011 MD as an extremely dangerous asteroid is due solely to its spectacular first appearance. Scientists have found that it has an average density of about 1 g/cm³, which means it is a “pile of stones” type object. Given its size, this means that even if it ever collides with our planet, it will completely burn up in the atmosphere.
The next potentially dangerous asteroid in 2024 will be 2020 BX12. It was discovered on January 27, 2020. This object consists of two fairly large stones that orbit each other at a distance of 360 meters. The larger of the two is 165 meters in size, and the smaller one is about 70 meters.
Theoretically, 2020 BX12 could someday collide with the Earth. Given the size of its components, this event would have quite catastrophic consequences. The explosion would be so powerful that it could easily destroy a large city. Fortunately, scientists have already calculated that no dangerous encounters with this pair of “space rocks” are expected in the next 200 years.
On February 17, 2024, 2020 BX12 will pass at a distance of 0.34 AU from us, i.e. 51 million km. So, despite its relatively large size, it will be possible to see it only with very powerful telescopes.
The next major event will take place on October 5 this year. And it is considered to be the most dangerous: according to scientists, the probability that the asteroid 2007 FT3 crashes into the Earth does exist, although it is extremely small.
The fact is that when this celestial body was discovered in 2007, about 28 million kilometers from the Earth, it could be observed for only two days. Therefore, its orbit was determined very inaccurately. The next time, astronomers failed to detect the object in the calculated position.
Therefore, since its discovery in 2007, FT3 has been considered lost. And over the years, during which it has been searched for, a considerable error has accumulated in the calculations, so no one knows for sure how close the asteroid will fly next time. Most likely, it will not come even 1 a.u. close to the Earth, but it is impossible to give a 100 percent guarantee.
It is from this error that the probability of 1 in 11 million that it will collide with our planet is taken. This is incredibly small. But if 2007 FT3 does crash into the Earth, it will have really bad consequences. The size of this space rock is estimated to be quite approximate, but it is known to be hundreds of meters, meaning that the explosion from its fall can be compared to the use of an atomic bomb.
The last “scheduled” approach of the asteroid to Earth this year will take place on December 17. The object 2022 YO1, which would be more correctly called a large meteoroid, will approach our planet at a distance of only 0.0055 AU, i.e. 825 thousand km.
When astronomers discovered this celestial body two years ago, the period of its observations was even shorter than that of 2007 FT3. Therefore, its orbit is also known only approximately. Astronomers say that there is a one in 430 chance that it will collide with our planet in December this year.
However, there is no need to worry about it. The size of this “space rock” is only 3 meters. If it does enter the Earth’s atmosphere, it will not create anything but a bright fireball in the sky. Only some fragments will reach the surface.