A space rock known as 2020 RW has been described by NASA as a near Earth object (NEO) and is making its way by our planet. NASA has said there is no chance the asteroid, which has a diameter between 30 metres and 56 metres, will not hit our planet, but the space agency will use its close proximity to Earth to study the history of the solar system.
If the asteroid is at the upper end of the scale, it would make the asteroid almost five times as long as a double-decker bus.
According to analysis from NASA, 2020 RW is travelling at a speed of 8.4 kilometres per second, or 30,240 kilometres an hour.
While that may seem unfathomably quick, it is actually relatively slow for a space rock, with the average speed of an asteroid being 18 kilometres per second.
The asteroid will shoot by Earth at a safe distance of more than six million kilometres, which is still close enough to be considered an NEO.
NASA said: “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 left over 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.”
NASA and other space agencies are constantly finding new NEOs, with the cosmos littered with hurtling asteroids, comets, meteors, meteorites and all kinds of debris.
In fact, this year alone, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center has discovered 1,769 NEOs in 2020 alone.
Earth is constantly being bombarded by such objects too, most of which are so small that they do not even create a fireball when they hit Earth’s atmosphere, with more than 6,000 meteorites hitting the planet in a single year.
Sometimes, however, they are noticeable to people on the ground, which is what we see when we see a shooting star.