Will an Asteroid hit Earth in 2020? What will Happen then?

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Near-Earth objects, commonly abbreviated as NEO’s, have long since raised our awareness towards the sky due to their potentially catastrophic natures.

When it comes to such objects, the asteroid known as 52768 (1998 OR2) has garnered quite the attention recently since many believe that it will hit our planet in April 2020, calling it the killer asteroid. But will it hit the Earth?  

Here are some essential questions to discuss in this article:

  1. What are the characteristics of the 52768 (1998 OR2) asteroid?
  2. Will the 52768 (1998 OR2) asteroid hit Earth?
  3. What will happen if 52768 (1998 OR2) hits Earth?
  4. How is NASA going to protect Earth from asteroid collisions?
  5. What is a close approach?

1. What are the characteristics of the 52768 (1998 OR2) asteroid?

The 52768 (1998 OR2) asteroid was first discovered in 1998. It is an asteroid of which we have been aware of for two decades, and since NASA has been monitoring it, we have gathered some information regarding it [1].

This asteroid is indeed relatively large, having a diameter between 1.1 – 2.5 miles / 1.7 – 4 kilometers. When this celestial object makes its closest approach to Earth, it will be traveling at a speed of 20,000 mph / 32,000 km/h.

When it does, both professional and amateur astronomers can view it using their telescopes. The asteroid’s closest approach to us is predicted to happen on the 29th of April.

Asteroid hitting the Earth
Credit: NASA

It will have a visual magnitude of around 10 or 11. This means that it can’t be seen with the naked eye but rather with at least 6-inch or 8-inch telescopes [2].

Though we don’t exactly know its shape and size, when 52768 (1998 OR2) will make its closest approach to us, it will be a unique advantage for scientists to study it.

2. Will the 52768 (1998 OR2) asteroid hit Earth?

NASA lists Asteroid 52768 (1998 OR2) as a potentially hazardous asteroid, but it isn’t on a direct course towards us. On the 29th of April, it will come within 4 million miles / 6 million kilometers to Earth.

The Center of Near-Earth Asteroids classifies any objects that come within 0.05 AU – less than 19.5 lunar distances, and have absolute magnitudes of 22.0 or less, as Potentially Hazardous Asteroids.

52768 (1998 OR2) is the most prominent asteroid to fly by Earth in 2020. Understandably, it may cause some concerns. There is no need to worry as chances are very low to hit us [3].

An asteroid hitting the Earth
Credit: NASA

However, there are some things which can alter 52768 (1998 OR2) ‘s course and might put it into a direct collision course towards the Earth. But again, chances are very meager.

According to NASA, 52768 (1998 OR2) won’t come more than 16 times the distance between us and the moon. NASA did not issue any warnings about a possible catastrophic collision.

3. What will happen if 52768 (1998 OR2) hits Earth?

As long as 52768 (1998 OR2) is classified as potentially hazardous, there will always be a small possibility of an Earth-bound collision at a later, unspecified date.

Based upon the current estimates of its size, if 52768 (1998 OR2) would hit Earth, millions of people will die. Some actually believe that it may wipe us out. Whatever the case, it will surely bring significant devastation.

Though 52768 (1998 OR2) won’t hit us, some external influences might change the asteroid’s trajectory: 

1. The gravitational tug of planets, over time, could cause an object’s orbital path to evolve into an Earth-crossing orbit [4].

An asteroid hitting the Earth
Credit: NASA

It opens up the possibility of a future collision. Some scientists believe that the effects of Mars‘ and Jupiters‘ gravity can actually dislodge some asteroids from the inner asteroid belt, and that is where they think most Earth asteroids come from.

2. There is, however, another process by which an asteroid can change its path. It is known as the Yarkovsky effect, and it is caused by the fact that an asteroid in direct sunlight heating cools down and releases radiation from its surface.

The radiation exerts a force on the asteroid, similarly to a thrust, and this can slowly change an asteroid’s direction over time. 

3. The third scenario implies that an asteroid could be hit by another object, break into smaller chunks, and could in them heading towards Earth.

4. How is NASA going to protect Earth from asteroid collisions?

The Planetary Society states that an asteroid bigger than 0.6 miles / 1 kilometer across, is big enough to threaten global destruction. It is estimated that there is one in a 50,000 chance that such an object could hit Earth every 100 years or so.

The asteroid which is believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs measured at around 6 miles / 10 kilometers across. Understandably, asteroids are no joke.

Asteroid protection
Credit: NASA

As such, space agencies such as NASA are tracking around 20,000 NEO’s constantly. These companies are not only monitoring these close objects, but they are also searching for potential new ones.

The objects which have a close approach are indeed potentially hazardous, but none of the ones we currently know of have any direct trajectory towards the Earth.

In the event that an asteroid might be on a course towards us, the most likely way in which we could probably deal with it, is by sending rockets to intercept it prematurely.

5. What is a close approach?

Every near-Earth object – NEO – is a small solar system body whose orbit brings it close to Earth. All of these objects are closely monitored [5].

Nearly every month, dozens of near-Earth asteroids come within 0.5 AU of Earth. That is the equivalent of roughly 4.6 million miles / 7.4 million kilometers.

Close approach
Credit: NASA

As these celestial objects orbit the Sun, some near-Earth objects make a close approach to Earth. These objects aren’t necessarily currently near the Earth, but they can potentially approach the Earth relatively closely, therefore, a close approach.

Most small asteroids frequently hit and burn up in the atmosphere and thus do little damage. They usually are a few meters across. Some asteroids with diameters of around 20 meters have created shock waves that shattered windows and caused injuries.

The asteroid that hit Siberia in 1908 had a diameter of around 40 meters. Such an asteroid has the potential to destroy a city or even create a tsunami entirely.

The larger asteroids hit less often than, the smaller ones, but they could cause environmental destruction. Around 10,000 years or so, asteroids larger than 100 meters are expected to reach Earth’s surface and cause local disasters.

Did you know?


– The 52768 (1998 OR2) asteroid’s approach to us is significant because no other celestial objects will come within such a close distance until 2027 when the (4953) 1990 MU asteroid will safely pass by Earth.

– 52768 (1998 OR2) is the largest known near-Earth object that will pass less than five times the Earth-moon distance over the next two centuries.

– The orbit of 52768 (1998 OR2) is well documented. It will once again make its closest approach to us in 2079. This time, it will be within a million miles from Earth, much more of a big deal than now.

– Once every several hundred thousand years or so, asteroids larger than one kilometer might hit the Earth and cause global disasters.


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