Asteroid That Could Be Bigger Than the Washington Monument to Speed by Earth This Weekend

A space rock that is potentially as big as the Washington Monument is due to pass by the Earth this weekend.

Asteroid 2008 GO20 is due to make a close approach to Earth on Sunday July 25 at about 1:50 p.m. EDT. It is being tracked by NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).

Scientists think the asteroid could measure up to 721 feet in diameter, though this figure is not certain. The space rock could also be as small as 218 feet in diameter. In comparison, the Washington Monument is 555 feet tall.

When 2008 GO20 passes by our planet it is due to be traveling at a speed of around 18,400 miles per hour—faster than the space shuttle when it orbited the Earth.

Although the asteroid is making a close approach according to CNEOS, the term "close" is relative in space.

The asteroid is not going to skim past our planet or pose any danger to us this weekend. It will actually pass Earth at a distance of more than 2.8 million miles.

This is over 11 times farther away from us than the moon is.

As the asteroid's name suggests, our first observations of it were made back in 2008.

The CNEOS defines a near-Earth object as a comet or asteroid that passes into our planet's "neighborhood" at some point during its orbit around the sun.

There is scientific interest in asteroids because they are leftover debris from when the solar system was forming around 4.6 billion years ago.

If we can work out what these asteroids are made of, then it gives scientists clues as to what sort of materials the planets in the solar system are made of.

Tracking asteroids also means scientists can tell if one of them is likely to collide with our planet.

According to the CNEOS, Earth is hit by about 100 tons of material from space every single day, but this material is so small that it reaches the surface as tiny dust particles.

On longer time scales though—around once every 10,000 years—our planet can be expected to be hit by asteroids bigger than around 100 meters across. This could spell disaster for the area that is hit, and the impact could also cause tidal waves.

Much rarer—on a time scale of several hundred thousand years—Earth may be hit by an asteroid bigger than a kilometer (0.6 mile) across, potentially causing global disasters.

Scientists are currently working on technology that could deflect an asteroid away from Earth if it is deemed to pose a threat.

A stock photo shows an artist's impression of a space rock against a backdrop of stars. NASA's CNEOS department tracks the orbit of asteroids. iStackphotons/Getty