The asteroid known as 2011 ES4 will shoot by Earth next week, and at 30 metres long, it is bigger than a double-decker bus. The space rock will come within just 0.3 lunar distance – with one lunar distance being the measurement between the Earth and the Moon – or 71,000 miles.
While that may seem like a sizeable distance, in astronomical terms it is a hair’s width.
NASA also revealed it will be travelling at a staggering speed of 8.2 kilometres per second – or 29,500 kilometres per hour.
At this speed, it could travel around the Earth in an hour.
According to NASA, asteroid 2011 ES4 is a NEO (Near Earth Object), giving NASA the perfect opportunity to study the history of the solar system.
Asteroid bigger than double-decker bus to come closer to Earth than Moon NEXT WEEK
2011 ES4 will pass Earth
NASA said on its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) website: “NEOs are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood.
“The scientific interest in comets and asteroids is due largely to their status as the relatively unchanged remnant debris from the solar system formation process some 4.6 billion years ago.
“The giant outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) formed from an agglomeration of billions of comets and the leftover bits and pieces from this formation process are the comets we see today.
“Likewise, today’s asteroids are the bits and pieces left over from the initial agglomeration of the inner planets that include Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.”
What is a close approach?
Even if the asteroid were to collide with Earth – which NASA says it will not – not pose a threat to life on our planet.
The potential damage it could cause would be similar to the Chelyabinsk incident.
In 2013, a 20-metre meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, smashing windows and caused injuries to more than 1,000 people.
However, the close approach does reiterate a need for watchful eyes on the sky.
Asteroids in 2020
While the chances of a major asteroid hitting Earth are small – NASA believes there is a one in 300,000 chance every year that a space rock which could cause regional damage will hit – the devastating prospect is not impossible.
This is why there are now plans in the pipeline which could help Earth from asteroids.
NASA is currently studying Asteroid Bennu, where its OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft arrived last year.
Part of the reason NASA is sending the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft there is to gather more information about the space rock which is 500 metres in length.
Asteroids, comets and meteors
NASA fears the asteroid, which has the potential to wipe out a country on Earth, could hit our planet within the next 120 years, with the next close flyby in 2135.
OSIRIS-REx has recently completed a major landmark in its quest to collect samples from the asteroid Bennu after getting closer to the space rock than it has ever done.
By collecting samples, NASA hopes to unlock the secrets of the solar system, as Bennu is a remnant of our galactic neighbourhood’s formation some 4.6 billion years ago.
Bashar Rizk, instrument scientist for OSIRIS-REx said: “The story of this asteroid is the story of the solar system.
“When we understand Bennu, we will understand something fundamental about our solar system.”