An asteroid that is more than four times bigger than the Empire State Building is due to make its close approach to Earth this weekend.
The space rock, called 2016 AJ193, will fly past our planet on August 21 at around 11:10 a.m. EDT.
When it does so, it will be traveling at a speed of around 26.1 kilometers every second—equivalent to more than 58,000 miles per hour, or roughly thirty times faster than a 5.56 NATO rifle bullet.
NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) estimates that 2016 AJ193 is about 4,500 feet in diameter, but there is an uncertainty of about 1,300 feet either side of that figure.
As a result, 2016 AJ193 could potentially be as big as 5,800 feet across, though it could also be significantly smaller. The Empire State Building, by comparison, is around 1,250 feet tall.
NASA classes 2016 AJ193 as a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA) due to its characteristics, but thankfully it won’t pose a risk to our planet this weekend.
CNEOS classes an asteroid as potentially hazardous depending on a number of factors including how close it is predicted to come to Earth and how big it is estimated to be.
While Saturday’s pass is deemed a close approach by CNEOS, 2016 AJ193 will actually pass our planet at a distance nearly nine times further away from us than the moon is.
It will then shoot back off into space on its highly elliptical orbit around the sun. The asteroid makes one orbit around the sun roughly every six years.
A NASA orbital simulation shows the asteroid briefly passes inside the orbit of Venus when it comes closest to the sun, but then swings out further than the orbit of Jupiter.
As of August 15, CNEOS was aware of nearly 27,000 near-Earth asteroids. Around 1,000 of these were thought to be more than 1 kilometer (3,280 feet) in size.
Tracking asteroids in this way allows scientists to make predictions of a possible collision with Earth, potentially years in advance.
This would give researchers time to put together international efforts to send spacecraft to the asteroid and, if possible, deflect it away.
NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft, aiming to launch later this year, is set to demonstrate technology capable of asteroid deflection.
Scientists have even considered using nuclear weapons to push asteroids away from Earth if they pose a threat.
In any case, CNEOS states on its website that “the threat to any one person from auto accidents, disease, other natural disasters and a variety of other problems is much higher than the threat from NEOs (Near Earth Objects).”