A huge asteroid will zoom safely past the Earth just after Christmas, according to NASA.
The space rock—known as 310442 (2000 CH59)—will make its closest approach to our planet on December 26 at 07:54 a.m. UTC (2:54 a.m. EST.)
At this point, it will be around 0.05 astronomical units, or 4.5 million miles, from our planet, data from NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) indicates.
Paul Chodas, director of the CNEOS, told Newsweek that this asteroid approach is “close” in astronomical terms, albeit not in human terms.
“At [its] closest, CH59 will be about 19 times farther than the moon,” he said.
While we know very little about the properties of this asteroid, we do have a rough idea of its size based on its brightness, according to Chodas.
The CNEOS estimates that it has a diameter somewhere between 919 and 2,034 feet. If we take the upper estimate, this would make it slightly larger than the Willis Tower in Chicago (commonly referred to as the Sears Tower) which stands at more than 1,700 feet high.
According to the CNEOS, the asteroid will travel past our planet at a staggering velocity of around 27,500 miles per hour—around 18 times faster than an an F-16 jet fighter moving at full speed.
CH59 is described as a near-Earth object (NEO)—any comet or asteroid whose path around the sun takes it within 121 million miles of the star and 30 million miles of our own planet’s orbit.
Furthermore, CH59 is classified as “potentially hazardous” because it is is estimated to measure more than 460 feet in diameter and its future trajectory is expected to take it within 0.05 astronomical units of Earth.
“Over many centuries and millennia [these asteroids] might evolve into Earth-crossing orbits,” Chodas said. “So it is prudent to keep tracking [them] for decades to come and to study how their orbits might be evolving.”
In the case of CH59, we know the orbit of this asteroid very well. CNEOS projections show that the space rock has no chance of colliding with our planet in the next century or so, at the very least. It was first discovered by the LINEAR survey on February 2, 2000 and has been tracked by scientists ever since.
Currently, we know about roughly 25,000 NEOs larger than 460 feet in diameter with Chodas noting that we have discovered about 35 percent of the total figure.
“But if you count everything larger than 10 meters [33 feet] in size, the total population goes up to something like 100 million, of which we have discovered only a tiny fraction of a percent,” Chodas said. “For potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs), the total population is estimated to be about 5,000.”
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