A giant asteroid thought to be so large that it could potentially dwarf the Great Pyramid of Giza darted past Earth, coming in at just under 2 million miles of the planet’s surface. Known as asteroid 2010 PK9, the formidable rock is estimated to be up to 853 feet wide as the entity came barreling past us earlier today, hurtling through the void of space at nearly 37,000 mph.
Data from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) shows that asteroid 2010 PK9 is a frequent visitor to our corner of space, coming around for a brief rendezvous almost on a yearly basis. As its name suggests, the massive asteroid was first discovered nine years ago – on August 5, 2010, to be exact – or about a week after it buzzed Earth from 7.4 million miles away on another one of its close flybys of our planet.
Ever since it was first spotted by NASA asteroid trackers, the rock has been kept under close observation by JPL scientists, who have gauged out its orbital path around the sun. After studying its trajectory and proximity to our planet over the course of 76 observations spanning a period of four years, the team classified the 2010 PK9 as a near-Earth object (NEO), specifically an Aten-type asteroid.
As NASA explains, NEOs are celestial objects such as comets or asteroids that orbit somewhere between approximately 91 million and 121 million miles from the sun. This means that, in their journey around our star, NEOs can venture as far as about 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit and as close to the planet’s surface as a few times the distance to the moon – or even closer.
Meanwhile, the Aten designation refers to the fact that this particular NEO has the potential of being “Earth crossing,” as it follows an orbit which will allow it to cross Earth. In fact, Aten asteroids spend most of their time inside Earth’s orbit, notes NASA.
As far as NEOs go, 2010 PK9 is certainly a hefty one. Data released by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) shows that the space rock is believed to measure at least 393.7 feet in diameter and be up to 853 feet across.
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. Even at the smaller end of NASA’s estimate, a space rock of this size still stands taller than Big Ben’s clock tower, the Statue of Liberty and Tower Bridge in London, the The Express noted, citing a similarly-sized asteroid that came waltzing through our celestial neighborhood in late March, as reported by The Inquisitr.
The giant asteroid swooped in for its close encounter with Earth about an hour before noontime. According to JPL, the space rock shot past Earth at 11:05 a.m. ET, venturing as close as 1,953,000 miles from the planet’s surface. To put that into perspective, that’s 8.20 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
Interestingly enough, today’s brush with Earth was the closest that asteroid 2010 PK9 has ever gotten to our planet in all of its long years of trekking the inner solar system on its orbit around the sun. After determining its orbital path, the JPL team was able to compile a list of all of the asteroid’s past flybys of Earth, dating back 119 years to the year 1900 – as well as its upcoming visits, stretching for 181 years into the future until the year 2200.
The only other time the giant asteroid approached Earth from a comparable distance was 31 years ago, on July 25, 1988. Back then, asteroid 2010 PK9 flew past Earth at a distance of 2.3 million miles.
Our celestial visitor will return for another close encounter in three years. However, its next pass through our neck of the cosmic woods will carry the asteroid a lot farther from Earth – a staggering 39 million miles from the planet’s surface, to be precise.