Next week, planet Earth is in for a momentous close encounter with a giant space rock, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced. Known as asteroid 454094 (2013 BZ45), the formidable object is believed to be so massive that it could potentially dwarf the Great Pyramid of Giza, and will reach Earth's vicinity next Sunday.
As its name suggests, the huge asteroid was discovered six years ago, being first spotted on January 19, 2013. Ever since it was picked up by NASA asteroid trackers, the massive chunk of space rock has been closely monitored by the JPL. After studying its orbital path around the sun, JPL scientists uncovered that the space rock was a frequent traveler through our neck of the cosmic woods and classified it as near-Earth object (NEO), specifically an Apollo-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 the sun, 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 asteroid's Apollo designation refers to the fact that this particular NEO has the potential of being "Earth crossing." Named after asteroid 1862 Apollo, space rocks of this class zip around the solar system on an orbital path that occasionally allows them to cross Earth's orbit, NASA points out.
The interesting thing about asteroid 2013 BZ45 is that it was also found to be a "potentially hazardous asteroid" (PHA). This more ominous designation has to do with its towering size and proximity to our planet. In order to qualify as a PHA, an asteroid has to measure at least 460 feet in diameter and follow an orbital path that brings it within 4.66 million miles of Earth's orbit. And, based on JPL data, the massive asteroid will approach Earth just under that distance on its upcoming flyby next week.
As far as NEOs go, asteroid 2013 BZ45 is certainly an imposing space rock. According to NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the giant asteroid is believed to be at least 360 feet wide and measure up to 820 feet across.
At the upper end of that size estimate, asteroid 2013 BZ45 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 British media outlet The Express noted of a similarly-sized asteroid that came waltzing through our celestial neighborhood in late March, as reported by The Inquisitr at the time.
The massive asteroid is expected to come in for its close encounter with Earth at 8:14 p.m. ET on August 11. During the moment of its closest approach, the space rock will be traveling at speeds of a little over 18,250 mph.
Despite the object's towering size and alarming designation as a "potentially hazardous asteroid," the upcoming brush with asteroid 2013 BZ45 will be a perfectly safe one. JPL assures that the space rock will harmlessly fly past Earth, only approaching within 4.04 million miles of the planet's surface. To put that into perspective, that's nearly 17 times the distance to the moon.
Although the distance may seem like a vast one by terrestrial standards, in cosmic terms 4 million miles is just a stone's throw away. In fact, this will be the asteroid's closest approach to Earth in more than half a century.
The last time that asteroid 2013 BZ45 managed to creep in closer to Earth's surface was 52 years ago, on February 4, 1967. At the time, the huge asteroid buzzed Earth from 2.72 million miles away.
The huge space rock is due for another visit next year. The asteroid will swing by Earth again in 2021 and 2022. After that, it will disappear for more than three decades, only to resurface in 2057. However, all of these subsequent flybys of Earth will carry the rock significantly farther away from our planet. Asteroid 2013 BZ45 won't get another chance to approach Earth from a closer distance until the year 2106.