An asteroid that could measure more than 1,200 feet across, as tall as the Empire State Building, is expected to fly past Earth safely later this week after being discovered just days ago.
The space rock, dubbed 2022 OE2, will close in on our planet on Wednesday, according to figures from NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) database.
At 8:23 p.m. ET that day, the asteroid is expected to be about 3.2 million miles from Earth in its own orbit around the sun.
This is about 13 times the average distance between Earth and the Moon, and as such there is no threat of collision with our planet.
Asteroids are rocky objects that orbit the sun much like planets, although they are much smaller.
Estimating the size of asteroids is tricky because astronomers often have to determine the size of the object based on its brightness in the sky.
“The bigger it is, the more light it will reflect and therefore the brighter it will appear,” said Greg Brown, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich in the UK. Newsweek. “However, this requires an assumption about the degree of reflectance of the material it is made from, which can vary widely. Add a number of other complications and the actual size of an object can be very different from the calculated value. .”
Because of these uncertainties, astronomers generally provide a range of size estimates, which in the case of 2022 OE2 is 170–380 meters (558–1,247 ft).
At the upper end of this size range, the asteroid would be as tall as the Empire State Building in New York, which is about 1,250 feet tall.
According to figures from CNEOS, 2022 OE2 will be moving at a dizzying speed of almost 72,000 miles per hour. It’s about 40 times faster than a rifle bullet and about a third faster than lightning.
The space rock is one of more than 29,000 near-Earth objects, or NEOs, that scientists have discovered so far, the vast majority of which are asteroids. The term is used to refer to any astronomical body that passes within approximately 30 million kilometers of our planet’s orbit.
Asteroid 2022 OE2 was only discovered on July 26, 2022, just days before its close approach. While astronomers have identified thousands of NEOs, these objects can actually be quite difficult to spot, in part because they’re relatively small and dim compared to other objects in the sky.
Some near-Earth objects are classified as “potentially hazardous”, meaning they have orbits that are within 4.6 million miles of Earth’s own path around the sun, while measuring over 140 meters (about 460 feet) in diameter.
The size of the potentially dangerous objects means that they could produce significant damage at least on a regional scale if one of them collides with the Earth. However, none of the potentially dangerous near-Earth objects we know of have any chance of colliding with Earth in the next century, according to CNEOS director Paul Chodas.