In March, an enormous asteroid will fly past the Earth at a velocity one hundred times greater than the speed of sound.
The gigantic space rock, dubbed 2001 FO32, is the largest known asteroid scheduled to make a close approach to our planet this year. In addition, it is also the fastest, data from NASA's Center for Near Earth Studies (CNEOS) shows.
Based on its brightness, the CNEOS estimates that the asteroid measures between 2,526 feet (0.47 miles) and 5,577 feet (1.05 miles) across.
This likely makes it bigger than any other asteroid set to fly past Earth this year. Even taking the smallest size estimate, the space rock would stand around the same height as the world's tallest building—the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
2001 FO32's gigantic size means the asteroid ranks among the largest in the Earth's cosmic neighborhood, although some space rocks in this region are even bigger still. In fact, a small handful of asteroids in our vicinity are estimated to measure more than five miles across.
Even so, these asteroids pale in comparison to the largest known asteroids in the solar system as a whole, of which Ceres is the biggest. This vast space rock, located in the solar system's main asteroid belt, measures around 580 miles across. It is so large, in fact, that astronomers have classified it as a dwarf planet.
In addition, to its massive size, 2001 FO32 will also be traveling at a staggering speed relative to the Earth at the time of its close approach—around 76,980 miles per hour, which is around 100 times faster than the speed of sound, and roughly a third as fast as a bolt of lightning when traveling from the atmosphere to the ground.
This means the asteroid is the fastest to fly past the Earth in 2021. Fortunately, astronomers know the orbit of this object well and there is no chance it will strike our planet in the foreseeable future.
2001 FO32 will make its closest approach to Earth at 11:03 a.m. ET on March 21, at which point it will be located around 1.3 million miles away from our planet—equivalent to around five times the average distance between the Earth and the moon.
The object is classified as a "near-Earth object" or "NEO" because its orbit around the sun can take it within 30 million miles of Earth's own orbital path.
Astronomers have also designated the asteroid as "potentially hazardous." This term is reserved for space objects estimated to measure greater than 460 feet in diameter that can approach the Earth's orbit within 4.6 million miles.