Next week, planet Earth is in for a close brush with a massive asteroid -- one thought to be so large that it could fit the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, two times over. Dubbed 310442 (2000 CH59), the behemoth will be making a close pass by Earth shortly after Christmas on December 26, zooming past us at a safe distance of 4.5 million miles. To put that into perspective, that's nearly 19 times the distance between our planet and the moon.
The giant space rock is expected to make its close approach to Earth in the early hours of the morning, NASA has announced. The object will reach its closest point to our planet at 2:54 a.m. EST, zooming past us at a speed of nearly 27,500 mph relative to Earth, or almost 36 times the speed of sound.
By all accounts, asteroid 310442 (2000 CH59) is a huge chunk of rock. The asteroid is the largest to traipse through our corner of the solar system in recent weeks, being surpassed only by the gargantuan 3,250-foot space rock that buzzed Earth two months ago, on October 25. The object is the latest in a series of massive asteroids to swing by Earth towards the end of 2019, as covered by The Inquisitr in previous reports.
NASA size estimates show that the object is at least 918 feet wide and can measure up to 2,034 feet in diameter. At the upper end of that estimate, it is about 1.4 times as big as the Empire State Building in New York -- and can even dwarf the One World Trade Center in Manhattan. A 2,034-foot space rock would be 1.2 times bigger than the famous asteroid Bennu, on which NASA will attempt to land its first asteroid-sampling mission, the OSIRIS-Rex, next summer.
Even at the lower end of NASA's size estimate, the rock is still quite massive, boasting two times the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt -- and three times the span of the Statue of Liberty.
Due to its gigantic proportions, the rock was designated as a "potentially dangerous asteroid" (PHA). To clarify, this doesn't mean that it is a threat to our planet. All near-Earth asteroids that measure at least 460 feet across and come within 4.66 million miles of our planet are flagged as PHAs and are carefully monitored by NASA.
Asteroid 310442 (2000 CH59) is one PHA that often swings through our corner of the solar system. As its name suggests, the colossal space rock was discovered almost two decades ago, when it was picked up by trackers at NASA's Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project near Socorro, New Mexico. The object was first spotted on February 6, 2000 -- about two-and-a-half weeks after it performed a so-called "close Earth approach," buzzing the planet from some 20 million miles away.
According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the asteroid orbits the sun once every 292 days, or nearly 10 months, and frequently passes by Earth and Venus as it circles the giant star. Based on its orbital path, the rock is classified as an Aten-type asteroid -- a class of objects named after asteroid 2062 Aten and which not only approach Earth but can also cross the planet's orbit. In fact, Aten asteroids spend most of their time inside our planet's orbit, says NASA.
Interestingly enough, its upcoming flyby of Earth will be the space rock's closest approach to the terrestrial surface in a little over a century. Its closest-ever encounter with our planet occurred 102 years ago, on March 29, 1917, and brought the object some 2.3 million miles of our planet. The last time the asteroid passed at a comparable distance to 4.5 million miles was 88 years ago, on December 26, 1931.
Next year, the asteroid will make a close pass by Venus, flying some 5.7 million miles from the planet's surface. The formidable space rock will return for another visit of Earth on March 23, 2021, and then again on December 26, 2023.