An asteroid that is said to be larger than the Empire State Building and will pass Earth this weekend loves this part of the galaxy so much that it is expected to make a return visit in just a few short years. According to estimates by NASA, and as reported by The Daily Star, space object 163348 (2002 NN4) will pass by Earth again in 2024, just four years after its Saturday, June 6 close-approach.
Although asteroids are not all that uncommon – NASA tracks nearly 2,000 asteroids, comets, and other objects in space as they circle the sun – this particular space rock has gained plenty of attention and made headlines thanks to its massive size and close proximity to Earth. The asteroid measures between 250 and 570 meters, or 820 and 1,870 feet. That means that it is possibly longer than the Empire State Building, which, at its highest point, stands 1,453 feet tall, and the London Eye, which measures 443 feet tall, combined. It is expected to pass within 3.1 million miles of Earth.
Due to those estimates, 163348 (2002 NN4) has been given the rare NEO label, or "Near Earth Object." The term is used to describe "comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth's neighborhood." Despite that somewhat treacherous label, Nasa's Ian O'Neill wrote that "in short, 2002 NN4 is a very well-known asteroid with a known orbit that will pass Earth at a (very) safe distance," so us earthlings shouldn’t be too concerned. However, if it's path were to veer and it collided with Earth, it would be "catastrophic," according to Professor Derek Buzasi, a physicist at Florida Gulf Coast University, who spoke with USA Today.
As its name suggests, the asteroid was first discovered in 2002, according to The Sun. NASA's Asteroid Watch widget shows that it is estimated to pass Earth at 3:20 a.m. UTC on Saturday, June 6, or 11:20 p.m. ET on Friday. An estimated time for its believed 2024 return is unknown.
Asteroid 163348 (2002 NN4) is just one of many space objects NASA is currently keeping its sights on. In total, this weekend will see six space objects making a close-approach to Earth. Thankfully, NASA doesn't anticipate any of these objects, or ones set to pass our planet in the near future, are on a collision course with our planet.