A massive asteroid is expected to pass near Earth in a relatively close encounter – 4.5 million miles – on Tuesday, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The asteroid, known as the 2021 KT1, is about 600 feet, the size of the Olympic Tower in New York City or the Seattle Space Needle.
The asteroid is classified by NASA as a “potentially dangerous object” because it measures over 492 feet and is located within 4.6 million miles of Earth. It will fly close to Earth at a speed of 40,000 mph, according to the lab, which tracks objects that drift near Earth’s orbital zone. While the asteroid is not expected to strike directly, NASA is watching closely.
This asteroid is not the only one to have approached Earth. One asteroid, known as the 2021 GW4, was only 12,000 miles from the Earth’s surface and traveled 18,700 miles per hour in April of this year. Astronomer and founder of the virtual telescope project Gianluca Masi said it was “an exceptionally close encounter.”
Four small asteroids as big as a plane or a house are expected to pass Earth from Monday to Wednesday, none of them potentially dangerous.
NASA defines an asteroid as “rock fragments left over from the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.” This space matter is believed to orbit the sun but can occasionally deviate from its orbital path due to the planets’ gravitational pull.
Scientists believe that the evolution of the planet could come from collisions of near-Earth objects, including comets and asteroids. One of these theories is valid for the extinction of dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Objects hitting Earth can potentially contain water ice or carbon-based molecules, which are necessary for animals and plants to thrive and cause geological changes.
Although Earth has not suffered a massive asteroid hit for decades, small asteroids often pass between Earth and the orbit of the Moon several times a month, according to NASA’s Planetary Defense. Meteorites, which are small asteroids less than a meter tall, can strike Earth’s atmosphere and explode, creating brilliant meteor showers that people can watch from their home balconies.
NASA is studying ways to deflect the impacts of asteroids in case one poses a huge threat in the future. One of these techniques, called a gravity tractor, would involve a spacecraft using the gravitational pull of a satellite to alter the trajectory of the asteroid. This method, however, is still in the works.