An asteroid known as 2020 OL4 will zoom by Earth on Saturday, August 8. The asteroid will come tantalisingly close to Earth at a distance of 7 million kilometres. Although while that may seem like a sizeable distance, in astronomical terms it is a hair’s width.

According to NASA, the asteroid is 37 metres in length, almost one and a half times bigger than a 24-metre blue whale – the largest living being on our planet.

The space agency has also revealed it will be travelling at a staggering speed of 10.8 kilometres per second – or 38,880 kilometres per hour. At that speed, it could travel around the Earth in an hour.

According to NASA, asteroid 2020 OL4 is a NEO (Near Eath Object), giving NASA the perfect opportunity to study the history of the solar system.

NASA said on its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) website: “NEOs are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood.

“The scientific interest in comets and asteroids is due largely to their status as the relatively unchanged remnant debris from the solar system formation process some 4.6 billion years ago.

“The giant outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) formed from an agglomeration of billions of comets and the leftover bits and pieces from this formation process are the comets we see today.

“Likewise, today’s asteroids are the bits and pieces left over from the initial agglomeration of the inner planets that include Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.”

While the chances of a major asteroid hitting Earth are small – NASA believes there is a one in 300,000 chance every year that a space rock which could cause regional damage will hit – the devastating prospect is not impossible.

This is why there are now plans in the pipeline which could help Earth from asteroids.

NASA is currently studying Asteroid Bennu, where its OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft arrived last year.

Part of the reason NASA is sending the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft there is to gather more information about the space rock which is 500 metres in length.

NASA fears the asteroid, which has the potential to wipe out a country on Earth, could hit our planet within the next 120 years, with the next close flyby in 2135.



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