A giant asteroid, one larger than the Empire State Building, is on course for a close Earth approach on Sunday and will safely cruise by our planet in the morning, NASA has announced. The colossal space rock is traveling at a speed of a little over 19,640 mph and is expected to reach its closest point to Earth at 10:17 a.m. ET. NASA assures that there’s no reason to panic, as the asteroid will only come within 1.73 million miles of the planet’s surface. To put that into perspective, that’s just under 7.3 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.
The formidable asteroid is known as 388945 (2008 TZ3) and is estimated to be at least 721-feet wide. The asteroid can measure as much as 1,607 feet in diameter, per NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), making it 1.5 times larger than the Eiffel Tower. Even at the lower end of NASA’s size estimate, the rock is still nearly 1.6 times taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza, and 2.3 times the size of the Statue of Liberty.
Due to its staggering proportions, the object has been flagged as potentially dangerous and bares the label of “potentially hazardous asteroid” (PHA). To clarify, this doesn’t mean that the asteroid has the risk of slamming into Earth, but rather points to its towering size and proximity to our planet. The PHA distinction is given to all celestial objects that are at least 460-feet wide and fly within 4.66 million miles of Earth’s orbit.
As its name suggests, the asteroid was discovered nearly 12 years ago, on October 6, 2008, to be exact. According to a report issued Thursday by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), NASA has spent a whopping 4,230 days studying the rock’s orbital path over the course of 1,085 observations to calculate how often and how close it can pass to our planet on its journey around the sun. The most recent of these observations was carried out on Wednesday, May 6.
“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 is the calculated orbit and the predictions that can be made from it.”
The asteroid circles the sun once every two years, regularly flying through our corner of the solar system. The object is an Apollo-type asteroid, which means it has the potential to not only approach Earth, but also cross the planet’s orbit.
The last time the mammoth asteroid visited Earth was on May 9, 2018, when it buzzed our planet from 1.54 million miles away. The rock performed close Earth flybys in 2016, 2014, and 2012 as well. NASA predicts that the massive space rock will return on May 15, 2022. The rock will be shooting past Earth every two years between now and 2040, each time flying at an increasingly greater distance from our planet. The pattern will resume in 2053, continuing in the same manner up until 2187.