Asteroid nine times the size of the Empire State Building to skim past Earth next month, Nasa says

AN asteroid nine times the size of the Empire State Building with whip past Earth next month, Nasa says.

The space rock called 52768 (1998 IR2) is travelling just shy of 20,000 miles per hour and will pass within four million miles of Earth.

That's around 16 times the distance from Earth to the Moon – a relatively near miss in space terms.

The asteroid was first discovered by Nasa in 1998, and is said to be "large enough to cause global effects" if it were to hit Earth.

The agency classes the object as "potentially hazardous" but says it is not expected to hit Earth any time soon.

Its next flyby is due for Wednesday, April 29 at 10:56am BST, according to Nasa's Center for Near Earth Object (NEO) Studies.

At up to 4,000 metres (or about 2.5 miles) wide, 52768 is as large as Mount Fuji in Japan (3,776 metres) or about nine times the size of the Empire State Building (443 metres).

Nasa considers anything passing within 120million miles of Earth a NEO.

Astronomers are currently tracking nearly 2,000 asteroids, comets and other objects that threaten our pale blue dot, and new ones are found every day.

Earth hasn't seen an asteroid of apocalyptic scale since the space rock that wiped out the dinosaurs 66million years ago.

However, smaller objects capable of flattening an entire city crash into Earth every so often.

One a few hundred feet across devastated 800 square miles of forest near Tunguska in Siberia on June 30, 1908.

What's the difference between an asteroid, meteor and comet?

Here's what you need to know, according to Nasa…

  • Asteroid: An asteroid is a small rocky body that orbits the Sun. Most are found in the asteroid belt (between Mars and Jupiter) but they can be found anywhere (including in a path that can impact Earth)
  • Meteoroid: When two asteroids hit each other, the small chunks that break off are called meteoroids
  • Meteor: If a meteoroid enters the Earth's atmosphere, it begins to vapourise and then becomes a meteor. On Earth, it'll look like a streak of light in the sky, because the rock is burning up
  • Meteorite: If a meteoroid doesn't vapourise completely and survives the trip through Earth's atmosphere, it can land on the Earth. At that point, it becomes a meteorite
  • Comet: Like asteroids, a comet orbits the Sun. However rather than being made mostly of rock, a comet contains lots of ice and gas, which can result in amazing tails forming behind them (thanks to the ice and dust vapourising)


Luckily, Nasa doesn't believe any of the NEOs it keeps an eye on are on a collision course with our planet.

That could change in the coming months or years, however, as the space agency constantly revises objects' predicted trajectories.

"Nasa knows of no asteroid or comet currently on a collision course with Earth, so the probability of a major collision is quite small," Nasa says.

"In fact, as best as we can tell, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years."

Even if they were to hit our planet, the vast majority of asteroids would not wipe out life as we know it.

"Global catastrophes" are only triggered when objects larger than 900 metres smash into Earth, according to Nasa.

In other news, it recently emerged that an asteroid obliterated early human civilisations in a catastrophic collision with Earth 13,000 years ago.

Scientists have discovered a "Super-Earth" 31 light-years away that humans could one day colonise.

And, distant planets may host even more life than we have here on Earth, according to one shock study.

Are you worried about an asteroid strike? Let us know in the comments!

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