A giant asteroid thought to be so large that it could fit in the Great Pyramid of Giza nearly three times over is headed toward Earth for a so-called "close approach" that will bring it within a few million miles of our planet's surface.
Hurtling through the void of space at a breakneck speed of more than 30,500 mph, the formidable rock will reach Earth's vicinity next week, on September 6. However, there's no reason to panic, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced. The space rock will harmlessly pass by our planet on its orbit around the sun, as it has done many times before.
The massive asteroid was only discovered a little over four months ago. First spotted on April 3, the asteroid was dubbed 2019 GT3. Based on its orbital path, it was classified as a 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, their Apollo designation refers to the fact that these particular NEOs have 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.
According to NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the asteroid is believed to be at least 525 feet wide and can measure up to 1,214 feet in diameter. At the upper end of that size estimate, asteroid 2019 GT3 would be nearly three times as large as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and about four times taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Even at the lower end of that size estimate, asteroid 2019 GT3 would still be considered hefty. At 525 feet across, the space rock would be bigger than both of those iconic landmarks.
Given its impressive proportions, the behemoth has been flagged as 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.
The colossal asteroid is expected to swing by for a close flyby of Earth shortly after midnight on September 6. The object will buzz Earth at 12:21 a.m. ET, safely flying past our planet at a distance of 4.64 million miles. To put that into perspective, that's nearly 19.5 times the distance to the moon.
While that may seem like a vast distance in terrestrial terms, 4.64 million miles is a stone's throw away by cosmic standards.
In fact, next week's flyby will be the closest that asteroid 2019 GT3 has ever gotten to our planet – and the closest it will ever hope to get.
After studying its orbit, JPL scientists compiled a list of the asteroid's previous and future close approaches to Earth. The list goes back in time 113 years, to the year 1906, and stretches 175 years into the future, until the year 2194.
In the past, asteroid 2019 GT3 has visited Earth six times. Its last flyby occurred in 2008 and brought the asteroid only 23.2 million miles of the planet's surface.
The rock is slated to pass through our corner of the solar system nine more times between now and 2194. The asteroid will return in 2030 and then again in 2041. None of its future flybys will bring it anywhere nearly as close to Earth as it will come on September 6.