Saturday 5 December 2020

Asteroid 2020 WC4 passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2020 WC4 passed by the Earth at a distance of about 704 300 km (1.83 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, or 0.47% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun), slightly after 9.10 am GMT on Saturday 28 November 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 WC4 has an estimated equivalent diameter of 3-10 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 3-10 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) more than 31 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface.

The closest approach of 2020 WC4 to the Earth on 28 November 2020. JPL Small Body Database.

2020 WC4 was discovered on 24 November 2020 (four 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 WC4 implies that the asteroid was the 104th object (asteroid C4 - in numbering asteroids the letters A-Z excluding I, are assigned numbers from 1 to 25, with a number added to the end each time the alphabet is ended, so that A = 1, A1 = 26, A2 = 51, etc., which means that C4 = (25 x 4) + 3 = 103) discovered in the second half of November 2020 (period 2020 W - the year being split into 24 half-months represented by the letters A-Y, with I being excluded).

The orbit and current position of 2020 WC4. The Sky Live 3D Solar System Simulator.

2020 WC4 has a 542 day (1.48 year) orbital period, with an elliptical orbit tilted at an angle of 1.59° to the plain of the Solar System which takes in to 0.95 AU from the Sun (95% of the distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) and out to 1.65 AU (165% of the distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, and more than the distance at which the planet Mars orbits the Sun). 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). This means that Asteroid 2020 WC4 has occasional close encounters with the Earth, with the most recent having happened in February 2018, and the next predicted for September 2022. The asteroid also has occasional close encounters with the planet Mars, with the most recent having happened in August this year (2020).

See also...

Follow Sciency Thoughts on Facebook.

Follow Sciency Thoughts on Twitter.