An asteroid the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza is hurtling towards the Earth, and scientists say it will pass "close" by on Sunday, July 25. The asteroid is called 2008 GO20, and if it were to impact the planet, it would be catastrophic. Thankfully, right now, NASA predicts that it will miss — if narrowly.
The asteroid is somewhere between 318 and 720 feet tall, making it comparable in size to both the Great Pyramid and the Taj Mahal. It is coming towards Earth at a speed of about 18,000 miles per hour — enough to do some damage if it made contact. On its current trajectory, NASA expects the asteroid to pass about 2.8 million miles away from Earth. That may not sound too close, but it is enough to alarm astronomers. At that distance, factors like gravitational pull from various planets or the asteroid itself could alter the distance, creating an unsettling margin of error.
For comparison, NASA points out, the moon is about 238,855 miles away from Earth, while Venus is 126.11 million miles away and Mars is 236.5 million miles away. The agency stated that any gravitational alteration of 2008 GO20's course would not be a problem right now, but would be a concern the next time it passes by. This asteroid last passed by the Earth on Aug. 4, 1901. At that time, it was even closer — just over 1 million miles away. Scientists believe that it has gone further from the planet on its last few passes.
Scientists also point out that asteroid passings are a common concern in their field, though the public typically doesn't hear about them. Back in August of 2020, an asteroid actually passed much closer to the planet — just 1,830 miles over the Indian Ocean. Thankfully, that one was without incident as well. Scientists refer to the area of space around Earth's atmosphere as "the Apollo," designating which incoming objects to monitor.
Asteroids are made up of debris remaining from the formation of the solar system itself. They are mostly made of rock and other solid elements and can take odd shapes, though over time they tend to round out thanks to gravity. Asteroids pass Earth frequently, and scientists monitor for dangerous potential impacts at all times.
NASA has much more information about these kinds of passages on its website. It also has a livestream, which will presumably be dedicated in part to this asteroid's passage on Sunday.