A giant asteroid is hurtling towards Earth and will make a “close approach” on Sunday, NASA has announced.
The space rock, 388945 (2008 TZ3), is around 490m wide – larger than the Empire State Building in New York, which is around 440m tall – and has been classified as a “potentially hazardous asteroid” due to its planned close passages.
For comparison, researchers have estimated that the meteor that likely caused the 1908 Tunguska event in eastern Siberia, flattening entire forests, could be around 100-200m in diameter, while the one that wiped out the dinosaurs was about 10-15 km wide.
Space experts say 388945 (2008 TZ3) has a diameter of about 0.219 to 0.490 km.
While an asteroid of this size could cause devastating damage if it hit Earth, NASA scientists believe it will only make a “close approach”, passing the planet on Sunday at a distance of about 4 million km.
The distance between the Earth and the Moon, for comparison, is about 385,000 km.
This is not the first time that this asteroid has passed in front of Earth. In May 2020, the giant space rock passed close to the planet at a distance of about 2.75 million km. It is not expected to return this close to Earth until May 2163.
The asteroid regularly passes Earth as it orbits the sun every 732 days, approaching up to 1 astronomical unit (AU), or about 150 million km, and reaching up to 2.21 AU of the star.
It is not uncommon for such large asteroids to pass close to Earth.
Experts calculate that asteroids around 100m in diameter impacting the Earth could generate an explosive force 10 times greater than that of the January 14 volcanic eruption in Tonga.
Any asteroid of a certain size that is around 7.5 million km from Earth is likely to be considered “potentially dangerous”, depending on its trajectory.