The asteroid, dubbed by NASA Asteroid 2019 AX2, was first picked up by radars on January 3 this year. NASA’s astronomers now believe the rogue space rock is barreling towards the Earth with a close flyby this weekend. On Saturday, January 12, the asteroid will make a so-called “Earth Close Approach” and fly past the Earth. NASA’s scientists at the California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) expect Asteroid AX2 to show up at 1.08pm GMT (UTC).
During its close approach, the asteroid is expected to miss the planet by more than four million miles (6.7 million km).
But the asteroid is understood to be taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Nelson’s Column in London, which is a good enough reason for NASA to track the space rock.
NASA’s JPL scientists estimate Asteroid AX2 measures somewhere between 104.9ft and 232.9ft (32m to 71m) in diameter.
An asteroid this big is more than three-and-a-half times as long as a bowling lane and 8.4-times longer than a London double-decker bus.
Even at the lower end of the estimate, the asteroid stands five-times taller than an average giraffe.
Much smaller asteroids have been known to cause unimaginable damage when striking the planet.
When an estimated 65.6ft-wide (20m) space rock entered Earth’s atmosphere at great speeds in 2013 over Russia’s Chelyabinsk oblast, more than 1,500 people were injured.
The Chelyabinsk meteor erupted mid-air with a powerful airblast, shattering windows across the region.
In the aftermath of the unsuspected asteroid attack, NASA dubbed the Chelyabinsk meteor a “cosmic wake-up call” to the dangers lurking in space.
NASA’s Planetary Defence Officer Lindley Johnson said: “The Chelyabinsk event drew widespread attention to what more needs to be done to detect even larger asteroids before they strike our planet.”
Thankfully, Asteroid AX2 will come nowhere near enough to hit the planet with destructive force.
At its closest, the so-called “Near-Earth Asteroid” (NEA) will approach within 0.04508 astronomical units (au) of the Earth.
Astronomers define one astronomical unit as the distance from the Sun to the Earth and this measures approximately 93 million miles (149.6 million km).
NASA expects asteroid AX2 to trim this impressive distance down to just 4.19 million miles (6.74 million km).
This is the equivalent of 17.55-times the distance from Earth to the Moon – 17.55 Lunar Distances (LD).
According to NASA, all asteroids and comets which come within 30 million miles (50 million kilometres) of Earth’s orbit around the Sun are “Near Earth Objects” (NEOs).
As they barrel around the Sun, NEOs will enter the solar system within 121 million miles (195 million kilometres) of the Sun.
NASA said: “As they orbit the Sun, Near-Earth Objects can occasionally approach close to Earth.
“Note that a ‘close’ passage astronomically can be very far away in human terms: millions or even tens of millions of kilometres.”
After Asteroid AX2 passes the Earth, NASA expects the space rock to visit Earth’s corner of space at least three more times.
The next flyby is scheduled to take place on the morning of January 5, 2033, followed by August 26 in 2085 and September 2 in 2134.
Daily Express :: Science Feed