A giant asteroid thought to be so large that it could potentially dwarf the Great Pyramid of Giza is expected to skim past our planet today, in what astronomers call an “Earth close approach.”
Known as asteroid 2008 HS3, the formidable space rock is estimated to measure anywhere between 394 feet and 886 feet in diameter. At the upper end of that size estimate, the asteroid would be nearly twice as big as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Cairo, Egypt, notes the Daily Express.
“Even at the lower end of the scale, asteroid HS3 is still taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York, U.S., and Big Ben’s clock tower in London, U.K.”
As the British media outlet points out, “it would take approximately 14.5 London double-Decker buses lined up in a row to match the asteroid.”
“Any object this big could be absolutely cataclysmic if it came into contact with our home world.”
Luckily, there’s no cause for concern, as today’s flyby will be a perfectly safe one. During its close brush with our planet later today, asteroid 2008 HS3 will harmlessly swoop past the Earth, passing within a few million miles from the planet’s surface, NASA asteroid trackers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced.
First discovered in April of 2008, the imposing space rock has been on NASA’s radar, so to speak, for the past 11 years. The asteroid orbits the sun once every 1.57 years, often passing through our corner of space as it circles our star. After studying its trajectory, speed, and proximity to Earth, JPL specialists have determined that asteroid 2008 HS3 will approach Earth at 6:03 p.m. ET today, missing our planet by a considerable 3.47 million miles.
This means that, during today’s close encounter, the asteroid will safely buzz our planet from a distance equivalent to 14.54 times that between the Earth and the moon.
Interestingly enough, today’s flyby will be the closest that asteroid 2008 HS3 has ever gotten to our planet – and the closest it will manage to creep in for the foreseeable future. The last time the space rock paid Earth a visit was in the year it was first spotted. On May 16, 2008, the hefty asteroid swooped past our planet for another close encounter, but only managed to come within 5 million miles of Earth.
Asteroid 2008 HS3 will return for another visit in 11 years’ time, when it’s expected to fly past Earth on April 26, 2030. After that, the space rock will come back around in another 11 years, zooming past our planet on April 13, 2041. However, both of these future flybys will be significantly more distant than today’s close encounter and will only bring the asteroid within 12.3 million miles and 28.4 million miles, respectively.
While today’s close brush with asteroid 2008 HS3 is definitely one for the record books when it comes to this particular space rock, our celestial visitor won’t be coming alone. According to NASA’s Center For Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), two other space rocks will buzz Earth today hours before asteroid 2008 HS3 makes its closest-ever approach to our planet.
Dubbed 2019 JM and 2017 RC, the asteroids are a lot less sizeable and only measure up to 82 feet and 52 feet across, respectively. The first one to traipse through our neck of the cosmic woods is asteroid 2019 JM. As the JPL points out, the space rock will swing past Earth at 8:52 a.m. ET, coming within 930,000 miles of our planet. That’s nearly four times the distance to the moon.
Asteroid 2017 RC will follow a few hours later, skimming past Earth at 11:36 a.m. ET. JPL data shows that the space rock will only approach within 3.44 million miles, or 14.41 times the lunar distance.