Six asteroids will zip past Earth on Joe Biden's inauguration day, but none pose a threat
The US presidential inauguration ceremony on January 20 marks the transition of power from the Trump administration to Joe Biden’s team. The day will also witness a lot of asteroid traffic as six of them are poised to fly by Earth. They are speeding through space at astronomical speed ranging from 10.24 kilometers per second to 26.78 kilometers per second.
Like the planets, asteroids and comets orbit the Sun. As they orbit the Sun, these near-Earth objects (NEOs) occasionally approach close to Earth. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) calculates the motion of all NEOs forward to 2200 AD and backward to 1900 AD and determines the times and distances of the Earth close approaches. Understanding future near-Earth object close approaches is important because astronomers can better plan when to study them as they fly past.
None of the asteroids that are expected to zoom past Earth on Biden’s big day pose a threat to the planet and they will zip past harmlessly. Their diameter ranges from an estimated 4-9 meters (2021 BO1) to 41-93 meters (2021 BC).
The orbit of a near-Earth object brings it into or through a zone between approximately 91M and 121M miles (195M kilometers) from the Sun, meaning that it can pass within about 30M miles (50M kilometers) of Earth’s orbit.
NEO close approach occurs when an object passes by Earth, but it is of particular interest when it passes within the distance from the Earth to the Moon, or a “lunar distance". NEO close approaches are often measured in lunar distances, where 1 lunar distance is approximately 240,000 miles or 384,000 kilometers.
2021 BK1 could come around 297,600 miles from Earth on January 20. At its closest point to Earth, 2021 BC could be roughly 645,600 miles away from Earth. 2021 BO1 could be around less than 1 lunar distance away from our planet during its close approach. No known asteroid poses a significant risk of impact with Earth over the next 100 years. The highest risk of impact for a known asteroid is a 1 in 714 chance of impact by an asteroid designated 2009 FD in 2185, meaning that the possibility that it could impact then is less than 0.2%.
According to scientists, small asteroids a few meters in size are detected passing between Earth and the Moon’s orbit several times a month. Meteoroids – very small fragments of asteroids and comets less than 3 feet (1 meter) in size – hit Earth’s atmosphere and explode virtually every day, causing the bright meteor events that people see at night and sometimes leave remnants – meteorites – on the ground.
NASA estimates that since 2015, observers have discovered more than 1,500 previously unknown NEOs each year (over 2,000 in 2017). “Roughly half of the known catalog of NEOs are objects larger than about 460 feet (140 meters) in size. The estimated population of NEOs of this size is about 25,000. Current surveys are finding NEOs of this size at a rate of about 500 per year,” explain scientists.