Christmas Day Asteroid Twice the Size of Statue of Liberty to Pass Earth

A huge asteroid potentially measuring more than double the size of the Statue of Liberty is set to sail past Earth on Christmas Day.

During its close approach, the space rock—dubbed 501647 (2014 SD224)—will come within 0.02019 astronomical units, or nearly 1.9 million miles, of our planet at 8:20 p.m. UTC (3:20 p.m. ET) on December 25, data from NASA's Center for Near Earth Studies (CNEOS) shows.

According to CNEOS, the asteroid is estimated to measure anywhere between 302 feet and 689 feet in diameter.

At the lower end of this range, the space rock would be almost exactly the same height as the Statue of Liberty. But at the upper end, it would be more than double the size of the famous monument in New York City.

While a close approach of 1.9 million miles sounds very far away, it is actually relatively near in astronomical terms. In fact, 1.9 million miles is just under eight times the average distance between the Earth and the moon.

As 2014 SD224 flies past our planet, it will be travelling at a speed of more than 22,000 miles per hour—which is roughly thirty times the speed of sound.

The space rock is one of many so-called near-Earth objects (NEOs) that orbit the sun in the vicinity of our planet.

Technically, the term NEO refers to any asteroid or comet that have orbits with the potential to come within 121 million miles of the sun, or 30 million miles of the Earth's own orbital path.

So far, researchers have spotted around 25,000 NEOs—the vast majority of which are asteroids. Scientists think most of the of the largest NEOs have been discovered, although there are likely to be many more smaller ones that are still undetected.

"By continually searching for asteroids, we expect to eventually find the majority of the hundred-meter-scale asteroids over time, as each happens to pass by our planet many years or decades before a possible potential impact," CNEOS director Paul Chodas previously told Newsweek.

"We have already inventoried over 95 percent of the really large asteroids (1 kilometer or 0.62 miles in size and larger) and we know that none of them has any chance of impacting over the next century."

NEOs that are thought to measure more than 460 feet in diameter and are in orbits that could potentially cross the Earth's own path within centuries or millennia—like 2014 SD224—are categorized as "potentially hazardous."

2014 SD224 will fly past Earth just a few days after the winter solstice on December, which marked the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

The astronomical event was notable this year because it coincided with a "great conjunction" of Jupiter and Saturn during which the two planets appeared closer in the sky than they have done for around 400 years.

An asteroid
Stock image: Artist's illustration of an asteroid. A large space rock will sail past the Earth on Christmas Day, 2020. iStock