2006 QQ23: Enormous Asteroid Larger Than Empire State Building Set to Fly Past Earth Next Week

A giant asteroid larger than the Empire State Building is set to sail safely past Earth next week, according to NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).

Known as 2006 QQ23, the enormous space rock measures up to 1,870 feet in diameter—comfortably greater than the height of the famous New York landmark (1,454 feet).

The asteroid—which was first spotted in 2006—will make its closest approach to Earth on August 10 at 3:23 a.m. EDT. It will come within 0.049 astronomical units (4.6 million miles) of our planet traveling at speeds of around 10,400 mph.

The space rock is classified as a Near-Earth Object (NEO)—a term referring to any asteroid or comet whose orbit takes it within 121 million miles of our sun, and within around 30 million miles of Earth.

The CNEOS computes the orbits of known NEOs to determine whether any have a chance of striking the Earth at some point in the future. Those which are predicted to have a minimum approach distance of less than 0.05 astronomical units and potentially measure more than 460 feet in diameter are deemed "potentially hazardous," even though none are currently thought to have a realistic chance of colliding with our planet in the foreseeable future.

"There are some asteroids that have an exceedingly small chance of impacting Earth over the next couple centuries," CNEOS Manager Paul Chodas told Newsweek. "Asteroid Bennu, which is currently being visited by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, currently has a one-in-a-few-thousand chance of impacting a couple of centuries from now, but as we continue to track this asteroid, I expect that chance to drop to zero. None of the other known asteroids has a significant chance of impacting Earth over the next century."

This is fortunate because in the rare scenario that an asteroid the size of 2006 QQ23 did strike the Earth, it would cause devastation on a regional scale in the event of a land impact, or a large tsunami that could significantly damage low-lying areas if it hit the ocean. Furthermore, the collision could result in global climatic changes potentially lasting for years.

While space objects enter our planet's atmosphere all the time, the vast majority are small—less than 30 feet in diameter—and burn up in the air as they fall, so we usually don't notice them.

Scientists currently know about more than 20,000 NEOs—the vast majority of which are asteroids—with about 30 new discoveries added each week.

Nevertheless, NASA estimates that two-thirds of the objects larger than 460 feet in diameter that exist in the solar system are yet to be discovered.

This is not 2006 QQ23's first close encounter with Earth. In fact, the asteroid is a relatively frequent visitor to our neighborhood, Brinkwire reported. Its first close approach took place on January 13, 1901—according to projections of its past trajectory—while it will next fly by our planet on February 15, 2022.

Stock photo: An asteroid larger than the Empire State Building will sail past Earth next week. iStock