The Mt. Lemmon Survey in Arizona discovered on Monday that 2020 JJ, a relatively small asteroid estimated to be the size of a truck, came surprisingly close to Earth after avoiding previous detection from scientists.
CNET highlighted that out of the top 10 closest near-Earth flybys recorded by NASA since 1900, 2020 JJ ranks as the sixth-closest approach. Moreover, all of the asteroids in NASA’s top 10 passed by in 2004 or later.
“This isn't because asteroids started attacking us in the 21st century. Rather, it says something about how astronomers and their technology are becoming better at spotting ever-smaller and closer asteroids,” noted CNET’s Eric Mack.
Scientists estimate the diameter of the asteroid in question is somewhere between 9 feet and 20 feet (2.7 meters and 6 meters). This is significantly smaller than previous space rocks that made headlines, such as asteroid 1998 OR2, which is estimated to measure 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) in diameter.
Mack theorized that if 2020 JJ had actually been on course to strike Earth’s surface, it would probably have burned up in the planet’s atmosphere. “In other words, this space rock wasn't any sort of existential threat,” he wrote.
This near-Earth flyby comes alongside NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine’s announcement of a joint effort between the agency and the US Space Force, the US’ space warfare military branch, to explore how to “deal with an asteroid that would impact with the Earth” - particularly Apophis, which is 1,100 feet wide.
"Apophis is going to come close to the Earth in 2029. It will be below some of our satellites in geosynchronous orbit (22,000 miles),” Bridenstine said on Tuesday.