Asteroid Potentially Bigger Than the Eiffel Tower to Fly Past Earth Next Week

An asteroid potentially taller than the Eiffel Tower is due to fly past Earth next month.

The huge space rock, known as 2021 KT1, will make a close approach to our planet on June 1 at around 10:24 a.m. EDT.

In cosmic terms, the word "close" is relative. Although NASA includes the pass in its "close approaches" data table, the asteroid will in fact zoom past the Earth at a distance of around 4.5 million miles.

This is nearly 19 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

Still, the asteroid is thought to be quite large and it will be traveling at a speed of around 40,000 mph during its close approach—nearly 20 times as fast as a rifle bullet.

NASA estimates 2021 KT1 is between 492 feet and 1,082 feet in diameter. At the upper estimate, this means the space rock will be about as wide as the length of three NFL football fields put together. Thankfully, the asteroid is due to pass safely by our planet.

Still, NASA classifies 2021 KT1 as a "potentially hazardous asteroid" or PHA. NASA determines whether or not an asteroid is a PHA based on its size and how close it can come to our planet.

Specifically, any asteroid that can't get closer than around 4,650,000 miles or is smaller than around 500 feet in diameter is generally not considered to be a PHA.

A diagram showing 2021 KT1's orbit can be seen below, with its name and path through space highlighted in white. The Earth's name and orbit can be seen blue. It is hard to see exactly how close the planets will come due to the perspective, but the vertical white lines show the asteroid's distance from Earth's orbit.

2021 KT1 diagram
A NASA diagram shows the orbit of 2021 KT1 as of May 28. Screenshot. NASA/JPL/CNEOS

NASA currently tracks around 26,000 near-earth asteroids. Around 1,000 of these are thought to be potentially bigger than 1 kilometer across.

The agency's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) states that "no one should be overly concerned about an Earth impact of an asteroid or comet. The threat to any one person from auto accidents, disease, other natural disasters and a variety of other problems is much higher than the threat from NEOs."

However, it adds that the chances of Earth one day being hit by an asteroid are "not negligible" over long periods of time. As such, NEO scientists actively track asteroids and calculate their motions with a view to predicting any potential Earth impact long before it happens.

In such a case scientists would attempt to deflect the asteroid away from us. NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is due to demonstrate such technology when it launches potentially later this year.

NASA's planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson previously told Newsweek scientists would also consider nuking an asteroid, though he added such a scenario would be one that "we want to try to avoid getting into."

Asteroid
A stock photo shows an artist's impression of an asteroid floating through space. NASA's CNEOS department tracks the motions of thousands of space rocks. Alexandr_Zharikov/Getty