Earth is in for a momentous asteroid encounter on September 13. The date, which incidentally falls on a Friday, will mark the closest-ever approach of a massive and potentially dangerous asteroid that has been regularly flying through our corner of space for the past 120 years. However, there is no cause for concern. Despite the ominous connotations typically associated with the fatidic date, the celestial encounter on Friday the 13th will pose no threat to Earth and its inhabitants assures NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
Known as asteroid 504800 (2010 CO1), the formidable space rock is thought to be so large that it could potentially dwarf the Great Pyramid of Giza. The rock is classified as a near-Earth object (NEO) – specifically, an Apollo-type asteroid – and is estimated to measure at least 394 feet in diameter and be up to 853 feet wide, per NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).
At the upper end of that size estimate, asteroid 504800 (2010 CO1) 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 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.
While the thought of a close brush with such a huge asteroid can certainly be unnerving, NASA assures that next week's close encounter with the massive space rock will be a perfectly safe one. The asteroid will harmlessly fly past Earth at a secure distance of a few million miles.
As its name suggests, asteroid 504800 (2010 CO1) was first discovered more than nine years ago – on January 31, 2010, to be exact. Ever since then, the rock has been attentively monitored by the JPL, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the asteroid bears a NEO label. And, as a near-Earth object – a designation that suggests proximity to our planet – it certainly merits investigation.
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.
At the same time, the rock is an Apollo asteroid. This specific classification is closely related to its orbit around the sun and signifies 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 says.
Another reason why the JPL has been keeping a close eye on asteroid 504800 (2010 CO1) is the rock's size. 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 (upper end of the size estimate) 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 a lot closer than that on its upcoming flyby next week.
Asteroid 504800 (2010 CO1) will swoop in for its close encounter with Earth in the late hours of Friday night. Hurtling through the void of space at a break-neck speed of more than 32,100 mph, the asteroid will cruise by Earth at 11:42 p.m. ET on September 13, coming within 3.3 million miles of the planet's surface.
To put that into perspective, that's almost 14 times the distance to the moon.
While 3.3 million miles may sound like a vast stretch of space by terrestrial standards, on cosmic terms it's merely a stone's throw away. In fact, this is the closest that asteroid 504800 (2010 CO1) has ever gotten to planet Earth – and the closest it will ever hope to get for the foreseeable future.
The huge asteroid is a frequent traveler through our corner of the solar system. In the past 120 years, the rock has visited Earth a total of 48 times, with the last flyby occurring on September 11, 2018. However, it has only managed to come as close as 5 million miles of Earth – a record hit on September 12, 1963, and which is about to be shattered next week.
During the next 166 years, the asteroid will fly past Earth 59 more times. Its next trip through our celestial neighborhood is expected to occur next September. Nevertheless, its future flybys of Earth will only bring it as close as 4.7 million miles of the planet's surface in 2181.