In yet another cosmic barrage of boulders and debris, NASA is warning of at least five close asteroid flybys this week, just days after Japan’s space agency announced it would be extending its asteroid-hunter mission.
To kick things off, on September 21 the 10-meter and 16-meter 2020 RQ6 and 2020 SJ2 will shoot past the Earth at distances of 1.2 and 1.4 million kilometers respectively.
Before anyone can breathe a sigh of relief, however, three more Near-Earth Objects are expected to fly past on September 22.
At 50m in diameter, or as tall as the Arc de Triomphe, the largest of the three, named 2020 RD5, will pass the Earth at 61,000 kph at a mercifully safe distance of four million kilometers.
Not long after, the paltry-by-comparison 2020 SM2, measuring just 5.8m in diameter, or four Danny DeVitos stacked on top of one another, will zoom past Earth, just 1.2 million km away.
Bringing up the rear will be the 27-meter 2020 RB6, traveling at a staggering 71,000 kph, set to pass our planet at a ‘close approach’ distance of 2.5 million km.
Meanwhile, Japan’s Hayabusa 2 asteroid hunter, which successfully landed on and ‘shot’ the asteroid Ryugu with a specialized bullet in order to obtain samples for analysis back on Earth, is set to extend its mission and touch down on another space rock.
The initial sample is due to return to Earth this December, with a planned landing in Australia.
However, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) confirmed at a press briefing late last week that the mission would be extended and that, after a flying visit to drop off the sample, the probe would be headed for the tennis-court-sized 1998 KY26 asteroid, located between Venus and Mars.
Despite the apparent proximity to Earth, the spacecraft will spend five years cruising around the solar system before observing yet another asteroid en route to 1998 KY26, at which point mission control will decide whether a landing is feasible or not.
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