A massive asteroid is expected to whiz by Earth in a relatively close encounter – 4.5 million miles – on Tuesday, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The asteroid, known as 2021 KT1, is about 600 feet, the New York Olympic Tower or the Seattle Space Needle.
The asteroid is classified by NASA as a “potentially hazardous object” because it is more significant than 492 feet and within 4.6 million miles of Earth. According to the laboratory, it will be flying near Earth at a speed of 40,000 mph, which tracks objects that drift close to Earth’s orbital area. While the asteroid is not expected to make a direct hit, NASA is keeping a close watch.
This asteroid is not the only one to come close to the Earth. An asteroid, known as 2021 GW4, was just 12,000 miles away from the Earth’s surface and traveled 18,700 miles per hour in April this year. Astronomer and founder of the Virtual Telescope project Gianluca Masi said it was “an exceptionally close encounter.”
Four more minor asteroids as big as an airplane or house are expected to pass the Earth from Monday to Wednesday, none of which are potentially hazardous. NASA defines an asteroid as “rocky fragments left over from the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.” This space matter is supposed to orbit the sun but can occasionally stray from its orbital path because of the gravitational tug of planets.
Scientists believe that the planet’s evolution could have stemmed from collisions of near-earth objects, including comets and asteroids. One such theory holds for the extinction of dinosaurs 66 million years ago. The things hitting the Earth can potentially have water, ice, or carbon-based molecules, which are needed for animals and plants to thrive and cause geologic change.
While Earth hasn’t experienced a massive hit from asteroids in decades, minor asteroids often pass between Earth and the moon’s orbit several times every month, according to the Planetary Defense at NASA. Meteoroids, which are minor asteroids less than 3 feet, can hit Earth’s atmosphere and explode, creating bright meteor showers that people can watch just from the balcony of their house.
NASA is studying ways to deflect hits from asteroids if one poses a massive threat in the future. One of these techniques, called the gravity tractor, would involve a spacecraft using gravity attraction from a satellite to change the asteroid’s path. This method, however, is still in the works.