Eiffel Tower-Sized Asteroid to Pass Earth Days Before Geminid Meteor Shower

An asteroid that is as wide as the Eiffel Tower is tall is due to fly past our planet in December just days before the peak of the Geminid meteor shower.

The asteroid, called 4660 Nereus, has been tracked by scientists for decades and was first discovered in 1982 by American astronomer Eleanor Helin.

According to NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), 4660 Nereus is due to make a "close approach" to our planet on December 11 at roughly 1:51 p.m. UTC (8:51 a.m. ET) and will be traveling at an estimated speed of around 14,700 miles per hour when it does so.

It should be noted that a "close approach" in astronomical terms is still very far away in human terms. At its closest, 4660 Nereus is due to pass by our planet at a distance of around 2.4 million miles—around 10 times farther away from us than the moon is—so there's no cause for alarm.

Still, NASA classes the space rock as a "PHA," or a potentially hazardous asteroid, because of its size and predicted close approaches.

Indeed, 4660 Nereus is expected to come close to Earth once again on February 14 2060 when it will pass by at a distance of around 744,000 miles—but this is still much farther away than the moon is.

The asteroid is thought to be around 330 meters, or 1,082 feet in diameter, meaning it's slightly wider than the height of the Eiffel Tower which stands at 1,063 feet tall.

It's not uncommon for asteroids to have a "close approach" to our planet. It actually happens every day, but most don't attract much attention because they're either very small or very far away from us.

In fact, Earth is "hit" by about 100 tons of space material every single day according to CNEOS, but most of this is just dust or tiny fragments of ice left over from comets.

It's thought that a larger asteroid around 100 meters or more in size will hit Earth on average once every 10,000 years or so and cause some local disasters. Larger ones causing global disasters are much rarer still.

As of November 7, scientists were keeping track of around 27,000 near-Earth asteroids, 1,000 of which are thought to be a kilometer (0.6 mile) or more in size.

4660 Nereus' flyby next month is due to take place just a couple of days before the peak of the Geminid meteor shower on the night of December 13th.

The shower is usually the strongest of the year according to the American Meteor Society (AMS), producing as many as 150 meteors per hour. They appear to come from the direction of the constellation Gemini, hence the name.

Asteroid in space
A stock photo shows an artist's illustration of a space rock floating through the cosmos against a backdrop of stars. Scientists keep track of thousands of near-Earth asteroids. iStackphotons/Getty