A potentially "catastrophic" asteroid taller than the Empire State Building is currently hurtling its way towards Earth, but when should we earthlings expect the asteroid to pass by our home planet? According to NASA's Asteroid Watch widget, asteroid 163348 (2002 NN4), the given name for the space rock, is expected to pass by Earth Saturday, June 6. It's estimated close approach will occur at 3:20 a.m. UTC, which would be roughly 11:20 p.m. ET on Friday.
Although 2002 NN4 is expected to keep a safe distance of more than 3 million miles away from Earth, or 13 times farther from us than the Moon, Derek Buzasi, professor of physics at Florida Gulf Coast University, told USA Today that it is still deemed as potentially "catastrophic" due to its size and its close approach to Earth. Measuring between 250 to 570 meters, or 820 and 1,870 feet in diameter (for comparison, the Empire State Building is more than 1,400 feet tall at its tip), the space rock is larger than approximately 90 percent of asteroids and likened to a football stadium. Additionally, any object larger than 150 meters that passes within 4.6 million miles of Earth is considered potentially hazardous. As a result, NASA has given the asteroid the "Near Earth Object" or NEO label, 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."
When 2002 NN4 buzzes by, it will be traveling at an estimated speed of about 11,200 miles per hour. Once it safely passes, it will make a return visit in just a few short years. NASA estimates that the asteroid will make a return visit in 2024, according to The Sun.
Of course, 2002 NN4 isn't the only asteroid set to whiz past Earth in the coming days. According to NASA's Asteroid Watch widget, June 6 will be a busy one, as three other asteroids are expected to make a close-approach. With a diameter of 26 to 59 meters, 2020 KO1 is expected to come within 3.7 million miles of Earth. 2020 KQ1, which has an estimated diameter between 38 and 86 meters, will pass within 3.2 million miles of our planet. Finally, an asteroid measuring 24 and 53 meters in diameter, dubbed object 2020 LA, will make a close-approach at an estimated distance of fewer than 1 million miles.
According to CBS News, there are more than 20,000 near-Earth asteroids. On occasion, some of those asteroids make an appearance, including a space rock that slammed into Russia in 2013, injuring 1,600 people. However, most of them pose little threat to the planet, with Dr. Lori Glaze, director of planetary science at NASA, telling the outlet that "it doesn't really keep me up at night."