A massive asteroid, one thought to be so large that it could potentially dwarf the Empire State Building in New York, is currently heading for Earth and will swing by our planet this weekend. The formidable space rock is an Apollo-type asteroid known as 2015 JD1 and has been on NASA‘s radar for quite some time. The giant asteroid is expected to reach Earth’s vicinity on Sunday, November 3, and will safely shoot past our planet without posing a threat of collision, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced today. This will be the asteroid’s closest approach to Earth in nearly five decades.
As its name suggests, asteroid 2015 JD1 was discovered a little over four years ago — on May 11, 2015, to be exact. Ever since then, NASA has been keeping a close eye on the colossal asteroid, which has been flagged as potentially dangerous due to its towering size. According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the asteroid is estimated to be at least 656 feet across and can measure up to 1,476 feet in diameter. At the upper end of that size estimate, the rock is bigger than the 102-story Empire State Building, which stands a total of 1,454 feet tall, including its antenna.
Even at the lower end of NASA’s size estimate, the asteroid is still impressively large. At 656 feet wide, the rock would be 1.45 times the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and 2.11 times larger than the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Given its enormous proportions, the space rock more than fits the bill as a “potentially hazardous asteroid,” or PHA. As NASA explains, asteroids are labeled as PHAs if they measure at least 460 feet in diameter and follow an orbital path that brings them within 4.66 million miles of Earth. Based on the JPL report released today, asteroid 2015 JD1 is not only larger than that, but will also come a lot closer to the planet’s surface on Sunday.
Aside from being a PHA, the rock is also an Apollo asteroid. The object circles the sun once every 490 days, or 1.3 years. As it zips around the giant star, the rock follows an orbit that allows it not only to approach our planet but also to occasionally cross Earth’s orbit. As such, the asteroid is considered to be “Earth-crossing,” just like all the Apollo asteroids.
Asteroid 2015 JD1 will swoop in for its close approach to Earth on Sunday morning. The rock is expected to reach its closest point to our planet at 8:44 a.m. EDT. Flying through space at a cruising speed of 26,600 mph, the giant asteroid will pass within a little over 3 million miles from Earth. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly 13 times the distance to the moon.
While a close brush with an asteroid — particularly one so large — can be understandably unnerving, NASA assures there’s no reason to panic, as the massive asteroid has no risk of going off-course and hitting Earth. In order to determine its orbit and plot its course through the solar system, NASA scientists have spent the past four years taking careful measurements of the rock’s position as it moved across the sky, while simultaneously developing computer models to predict its orbital path. The data was gathered over the course of 417 observations, the last one occurring just two days ago, on October 30.
This weekend’s close approach is a momentous one for the wayfaring space rock. The massive asteroid hasn’t been this close to Earth in 47 years, per JPL data. The last time that 2015 JD1 passed at a comparable distance was on October 31, 1972, when it buzzed Earth from 3.5 million miles away.
Interestingly enough, this November flyby will not be the asteroid’s first trip through our cosmic neighborhood this year. The rock visited Earth five months ago, on May 18, when it passed at a staggering distance of 27.5 million miles from the planet’s surface. The asteroid will return for another double visit in 2023 when it will fly past Earth in May and then again in November.