A giant asteroid taller than the Empire State Building skimmed past our planet earlier today on what astronomers describe as a "close Earth approach."
The massive asteroid, estimated to measure between 656.2 feet and 1,476.4 feet across, whizzed past Earth at 10:57 a.m. EST on Wednesday morning, coming within 4.5 million miles of our planet. While this may seem like a vast distance by terrestrial standards, today's flyby was actually a rather close brush in cosmic terms.
In fact, Wednesday's visit was the second closest approach of this particular asteroid in nearly 120 years.
The space rock in question is known as asteroid 1999 VF 22 and has been regularly passing through our corner of space ever since the early 1900s. The asteroid was first spotted on November 10, 1999, and has been rigorously monitored by asteroid trackers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, ever since.
After analyzing its speed and trajectory, the JPL announced on Tuesday that asteroid 1999 VF 22 would swing by for a close encounter on February 20. While an asteroid this size would have undoubtedly raised concerns had it strayed a little too close for comfort, the space rock never posed any threat to our planet, missing the Earth by a little more than 4.5 million miles.
During its close approach to Earth, the asteroid reached mind-boggling speeds of nearly 60,000 mph. As the Express pointed out, asteroid 1999 VF 22 was hurtling through space at a whopping 59,234 mph, or almost 80 times the speed of sound, at the time of today's close flyby.This formidable space rock boasts quite a hefty diameter. At the upper end of its size estimate, 1999 VF 22 rivals the famous 1,650-foot asteroid Bennu, which is currently being orbited by NASA's first asteroid-sampling mission, the OSIRIS-REx. By comparison, the Empire State Building has a roof height of 1,250 feet and stands a total of 1,454 feet tall, including its antenna.
"An asteroid this big would tower over the Empire State Building in New York, the Eiffel Tower in France, and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco," noted the Express.
Judging by its distance from our planet, the sizeable space rock has been classified as a near-Earth object (NEO). As the Inquisitr previously reported, NEOs are celestial bodies, such as comets or asteroids, that orbit anywhere within 1.3 astronomical units (AU) from the sun. One AU represents the average distance between Earth and the sun and is equivalent to roughly 93 million miles.
The JPL data showed that, during today's close approach, asteroid 1999 VF 22 passed within 0.0491 AU from Earth. That's almost 19.1 times the distance between Earth and the moon, also known as the lunar distance (LD).
The only time when asteroid 1999 VF 22 has come closer to our planet than it did today was 20 years ago, on Halloween morning. On October 31, 1999, the asteroid slid within 3.49 million miles from Earth (0.0376 AU, 14.6 LD). The space rock is slated to double back for a return visit on November 16, 2020, when it is expected to approach our planet from a much greater distance – it will buzz the Earth from 35.6 million miles away.