Thursday 17 September 2020

Asteroid 2020 RM passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2020 RM passed by the Earth at a distance of about 1 047 000 km (2.73 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 0.70% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly after 4.20 am GMT on Friday 11 September 2020. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though were it to do so it would not have presented a significant threat. 2020 RM has an estimated equivalent diameter of 8-24 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 8-24 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be expected to explode in an airburst (an explosion caused by superheating from friction with the Earth's atmosphere, which is greater than that caused by simply falling, due to the orbital momentum of the asteroid) in the atmosphere between 35 and 17 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's  surface.

The current position and orbit of 2020 RM. JPL Small Body Database.

2020 RM was discovered on 6 September 2020 (five days before its closest approach to the Earth) by the University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon Survey at the Steward Observatory on Mount Lemmon in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The designation 2020 RM implies that the asteroid was the 12th object (asteroid M - in numbering asteroids the letters A-Y, excluding I, are assigned numbers from 1 to 24, with a number added to the end each time the alphabet is ended, so that A = 1, A1 = 25, A2 = 49, etc., which means that M = 12) discovered in the first half of September 2020 (period 2020 R - the year being split into 24 half-months represented by the letters A-Y, with I being excluded).

2020 RM has a 374 day (1.02 year) orbital period, with an elliptical orbit tilted at an angle of 3.17° to the plain of the Solar System which takes in to 0.79 AU from the Sun (79% of the distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) and out to 1.24 AU (124% of the distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun). This means that close encounters between the asteroid and Earth are very common, with the last thought to have happened in September 2019 and the next predicted in September 2021. It is therefore classed as an Apollo Group Asteroid (an asteroid that is on average further from the Sun than the Earth, but which does get closer).

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