On September 24, 2020 tiny asteroid 2020 SW ( roughly 6 – 10 meter diameter ) will pass between Earth and the Moon at 7.7 Km per second ( that’s 27,900 km/h ). At closest approach 28,254 kilometers away, a mere 7% of distance to the Moon. Closer than communication and meteorological satellites locked in orbit at 38,000ish kilometers above our planet. Close enough for gravity to alter velocity and bend 2020 SW’s trajectory.
Astronomers confidently stress there’s nothing to fear, 2020 SW won’t unleash calamity. Not now or for the next fifty years of calculated orbit.
Infinitely more remarkable than online chatter surrounding a “near miss”, is the fact 2020 SW was discovered on September 18, 2020, completely unknown until a few days ago. It’s been orbiting Earth every 372 days for who knows how long, nobody noticed until now. Brings to mind Chelyabinsk, Russia on February 15, 2013 – global eyes fixated on known asteroid DA 14 making a close fly-by. Without warning, unidentified cosmic rubble struck our atmosphere from another direction. Exploding over Chelyabinsk, injuring over a thousand residents to the dismay of stunned astronomers.
Small asteroid 2020 SW will pass so close to Earth on September 24, that our planet’s gravity will alter the space rock’s speed and bend its path through space. The green line indicates the asteroid’s trajectory, while the yellow line points to the sun. Gray line represents the Moon’s orbit, but not to scale. Illustration by the Minor Planet Center, with modifications by Eddie Irizarry.
2020 SW won’t be visible to the naked eye, but interested sky watchers can watch live online at Virtual Telescope Project in Rome. Linked below –
View larger. | The Virtual Telescope Project in Rome will be showing asteroid 2020 SW live a few hours its closest approach. The live feed is scheduled for September 23, 2020 starting at 22 UTC; translate UTC to your time. To join online, go to Virtual Telescope’s website.
Cosmic gak abounds, the universe undulates in incomprehensible maelstroms of its own design. For every identified potentially hazardous asteroid, countless more tiptoe in obscurity. Be it light pollution, sunward approaching objects, observational limitations, rogue insurgents ejected from the asteroid belt, there’s no end to reasons why near Earth objects catch us off guard.
Location of Asteroid 2020 SW on the night of Wednesday, September 23, at around 10:30 pm CDT (03:30 UTC on September 24). Facing east, as seen from U.S. The space rock will be located not too far from where we see the star Algenib (Gamma Pegasi), in the Great Square of Pegasus. Illustration by Eddie Irizarry using Stellarium.