A total of 13 asteroids will hurtle through space and pass Earth this December. While a few will pass really close to the Earth, none of them are going to collide with the planet in a dramatic doomsday scenario.
Phew, we're safe! (Well, at least till the feared >Apophis, JF1 and others have a go at Earth " and all life on Earth, really " in the decades to come.)
Asteroids are small rocky bodies that exist in the solar system and orbit the Sun. They are found in large numbers in the asteroid belt, an expanse of orbiting space rocks that go around our Sun, between Mars and Jupiter. Both, asteroids and their smaller counterparts (meteoroids), regularly make close approaches to Earth. NASA keeps a permanent eye on the sky to track and monitor these asteroids via the Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies (CENOS) maintaining a database.
All thirteen asteroids flying-by Earth have been classified as near-Earth objects (NEOs) by the Jet Propulsion Lab at NASA, which manages the CNEOS database. Some of these asteroids could potentially come in contact with Earth's atmosphere, but often, due to their negligible sizes, they cause no real harm. They end up burning into a stream of dust and gas as they enter the Earth's atmosphere at dizzying speeds, never really making contact with land or ocean.
That said, a few lucky people will see them in the form of shooting stars, so they're definitely worth looking out for.
On 9 December, asteroid >2019 XY will be the first of three asteroids brushing past Earth in close encounters. 2019 XY will also be the closest of the lot, passing the Earth at close range " little over three times the distance between the Earth and Moon " at 10.21 am IST.
At 3.35 pm IST later the same day, asteroid >2019 XB will pass the Earth at 17.28 times the distance between the Earth and the moon (referred to as 'lunar distances').
A few hours later, at 6.59 pm IST, 2019 WT3 will also approach the Earth.
Asteroid >2019 WO2 will be the fourth asteroid to come in close quarters to Earth in a span of 24 hours within five lunar distances of Earth.
On 18 December, at 9.50 am IST, asteroid >2019 XF will be the fastest asteroid this month travelling at a speed of 24.13 km/s relative to Earth's velocity.
Asteroid >216258 (2006 WH1) will be the largest asteroid at 240 m-540 m to fly past us this month on 20 December at 8.47 pm IST.
A NEO is a comet, asteroid or any small Solar System body whose orbit brings it in close proximity with Earth. If a NEO's orbit crosses the Earth's, and the object is larger than 140 meters across, it is considered a potentially hazardous object (PHO). NASA tracks these NEOs and maintains a database.
To track all the asteroids and stay updated on new ones, head here.