A massive asteroid is flying towards Earth, and concerned scientists are keeping a close eye on it, according to a report by The Daily Star. The asteroid is estimated to be between 830 and 1,870 feet in length, possibly making it taller than the Empire State Building. Current models show the asteroid "skimming" Earth's orbit and then passing by.
NASA is monitoring the giant asteroid, which has been designated the name 163348 (2002 NN4). It has been classified as an Aten asteroid, meaning that it is following a very wide orbit around the sun. It is currently heading towards the Earth at a speed of about 11,200 miles per hour, but NASA predicts that it will miss the planet by over 3 million miles on its current trajectory. It will fly by on Saturday, June 6.
Still, NASA has given 163348 (2002 NN4) the weary description "Near Earth Object" or NEO — a term 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." Any object that comes within 1.3 astronomical units gets this classification. They are watching closely in the unlikely event that it enters Earth's atmosphere.
NASA tracks nearly 2,000 asteroids, comets and other objects in space as they circle the sun with us, although it is not clear if this was already one of them or not. Experts say that this asteroid will next pass by Earth again in 2024 after it flies by this weekend.
Scientists have long tracked objects to see if they could threaten Earth, knowing that the impact of a certain size would be an apocalyptic event for the planet. Back in February, researchers from MIT published a guide called Acta Astonautica, laying out every possible contingency for stopping an asteroid impact. Possible methods include launching an object at it to knock it off course or firing a nuclear missile to blow it up, but there are other, more fantastical-sounding ideas as well.
Scientists said that earthlings might want to send a scouting mission to an oncoming asteroid before blowing it up, depending on the status of the space program at the time. They noted that — unlike in movies — NASA would probably be able to warn of a deadly asteroid well in advance, giving people time to study it.
In addition, there may be more advanced options for dealing with an asteroid than destroying it. The authors put forth ideas like a "gravity tractor" to change its course, or a beam of concentrated sunlight to slow its approach. Scientists believe the last apocalyptic level collision with earth came 66 million years ago, leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs.