A giant asteroid thought to be nearly as large as the Empire State Building in New York will be making a close approach to Earth next week, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced. The imposing space rock is estimated to be up to 1,410 feet wide and will swing by Earth on Tuesday, September 24, missing the planet by a few million miles.
Known as asteroid 523934 (1998 FF14), the formidable space rock has been on NASA’s radar, so to speak, for a very long time. As its name suggests, the rock was discovered more than two decades ago and has been attentively monitored by the JPL ever since.
According to British media outlet Express, the massive rock was first spotted in 1998 by asteroid trackers at NASA’s Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) near Socorro, New Mexico. Due to its mammoth proportions, the gigantic asteroid was immediately flagged as potentially dangerous and was classified as a near-Earth object (NEO), specifically an Apollo-type asteroid.
As The Inquisitr previously reported, NASA labels as “potentially hazardous” all asteroids that go over 460 feet in diameter and follow an orbital path which brings them within 4.66 million miles of Earth’s orbit. And, based on JPL data, asteroid 1998 FF14 will approach a lot closer than that when it shoots past Earth on Tuesday.
The striking thing about the gargantuan asteroid – other than its towering size, of course – is that it is expected to cross Earth’s orbit. As an Apollo asteroid, the rock has the potential of being “Earth-crossing.” However, most asteroids that venture close to Earth have orbits similar to that of our planet.
“The random chance of an oddball trajectory intersecting our orbit is lower,” notes Express. “But, in this case, asteroid 1998 FF14 is one of the oddballs. It has an inclined orbit tilted at a steep angle compared to the Earth’s orbit.”
The “oddball” asteroid is among the heftiest space rocks to pass by Earth in recent months. Data from NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) indicates that the asteroid is at least 623 feet across and can measure up to 1,410 feet in diameter. At the upper end of NASA’s size estimate, the rock is almost as large as the Empire State Building, which stands 1,454 feet tall.
While the thought of a close brush with an asteroid of this size – particularly one that is expected to cross Earth’s orbit – can be unnerving to say the least, NASA assures there’s no reason to panic. After studying the asteroid’s orbit for the past 21 years, JPL scientists were able to plot the rock’s course through the inner solar system. Their calculations revealed that the behemoth will miss Earth by 2.58 million miles on September 24. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly 11 times the distance to the moon.
“Scientists determine the orbit of an asteroid by comparing measurements of its position as it moves across the sky to the predictions of a computer model of its orbit around the sun,” explains NASA.
“The more observations that are used and the longer the period over which those observations are made, the more accurate the calculated orbit and the predictions that can be made from it.”
In the case of asteroid 1998 FF14, scientists used a total of 103 observations to trace its trajectory and gauge its proximity to Earth. The giant space rock is expected to pay Earth a visit in the early hours of Tuesday morning, swooping by for its close approach at 3:27 a.m. ET. During its close flyby of Earth, the asteroid will be barreling through space at a phenomenal speed of nearly 50,000 mph.
The last time that Earth was buzzed by a massive asteroid was last weekend. On September 14, a colossal 2,132-foot space rock flew past our planet at a distance of 3.31 million miles, as previously covered by The Inquisitr.
Asteroid 1998 FF14 will return for another visit seven years from now, in 2026, and then again in 2033 and 2040. However, its subsequent flybys of Earth will carry the hefty asteroid increasingly father away from Earth’s surface.