A giant asteroid twice as large as The Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt is headed in Earth’s direction and will reach our vicinity on Monday. Traveling through the vastness of space at breakneck speeds of more than 28,200 mph, the formidable space rock will swing by for a close — but perfectly safe — encounter with planet Earth around noontime on June 24.
The asteroid in question is known as 441987 (2010 NY65) and has long been on NASA’s radar, so to speak. As its name suggests, the space rock was first discovered in 2010 and has been classified as a near-Earth object (NEO). As NASA explains, a NEO “is an asteroid or comet whose orbit brings it into or through a zone between approximately 91 million and 121 million miles from the sun, meaning that it can pass within about 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit.”
A large number of NEOs harmlessly wander through our corner of the solar system every year and are picked up by NASA asteroid trackers ahead of their close flybys to Earth. These objects manage to approach our planet after having been “nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighborhood,” details NASA’s Center For Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).
In the case of asteroid 441987 (2010 NY65), its visits to Earth’s cosmic neighborhood are very frequent, occurring almost on a yearly basis. After closely monitoring its orbital path for a little over eight years, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have determined that this particular object is an Aten-type asteroid. This means that the space rock is “Earth-crossing,” as it can not only approach our planet but also occasionally cross Earth’s orbit. In fact, Aten asteroids spend most of their time inside Earth’s orbit, notes NASA.
Over the years, the imposing space rock has made numerous headlines on the eve of its close approaches to planet Earth. Aside from its towering size, another reason why the media has paid close attention to asteroid 441987 (2010 NY65) is that is has been classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid.
“Potentially hazardous asteroids, or PHAs, are a subset of the larger group of near-Earth asteroids,” explains NASA.
“The PHAs have the closest orbits to Earth’s, coming within five million miles, and they are big enough to survive passing through Earth’s atmosphere and cause damage on a regional, or greater, scale.”
As Down To Earth points out, for a NEO to be classified as a PHA it has to come within 4.66 million miles of Earth’s orbit and measure at least 460 feet in diameter.
Named 441987 (2010 NY65), the rock has a diameter of 130 to 300 metres and will pass the Earth at a speed of more than 45,000 kilometres per hour https://t.co/r30uVdz8h1
— Down To Earth (@down2earthindia) June 19, 2019
While its massive dimensions and ominous designation are certainly unnerving, NASA assures that Monday’s close brush with the giant asteroid is no cause for alarm.
According to CNEOS, the space rock is thought to be between 426 feet and 984 feet wide. Even at the lower end of NASA’s size estimate, the asteroid is still nearly as tall as the Pyramid of Giza. At the upper end of the size estimate, its dimensions double, making it 2.15 times as large as the iconic Egyptian pyramid.
The object will swoop in for its close approach to planet Earth shortly after noon tomorrow, making a quick pass by our home world at 12:59 p.m. ET. However, the celestial visitor won’t come too close for comfort, according to the JPL. During tomorrow’s close flyby of Earth, the massive asteroid will only get within 1.82 million miles of the planet’s surface. To put that into perspective, that’s 7.63 times the distance to the moon.
The asteroid will return for another close encounter in 2020, and it will continue to visit planet Earth every year until 2035. After that, the space rock will disappear for a century, only to resurface in 2137 and resume its string of yearly flybys of Earth.