Two Huge Asteroids To Pass Earth Ahead of NASA's Impact Simulation

The asteroids 2016 QE45 and 2021 FK3 are due to speed past our planet tonight and Saturday on what will be their closest orbital approaches for years.

The two space rocks are in orbit around our sun, and every so often their orbits cross the path of Earth's. It could be many years before they pass relatively close by. The weekend's close passes will be safe.

2016 QE45 will make its close approach to Earth at around 9:48 p.m. ET, April 23. At its nearest, the asteroid will be around 0.03391 au away—or 3,152,131 miles from Earth. This is more than 13 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

2016 QE45 will be traveling at 34,100 mph during this close pass, or about 40 times as fast as a handgun bullet.

NASA thinks the asteroid is between 393 feet and 885 feet across. At the upper limit, this is nearly as wide as the Eiffel Tower is tall.

2021 FK3 is due to make its close approach to Earth at 1:45 pm. ET, April 24. It will pass as close as 0.04041 au, or 3,756,344 miles away. 2021 FK3 will be traveling at 14.05 km/s when it zooms by our planet.

NASA thinks the asteroid is between 291 feet and 656 feet wide; potentially as big as the Space Needle in Seattle.

Neither of the asteroids will pose a threat to Earth when they pass by at their safe distances, despite their large size and speed. The space rocks are tracked by NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies, which calculates high-precision orbits for objects it detects near to our planet.

Below is the orbital diagram of 2016 QE45, labeled in white. The diagram shows how the rock and the Earth will pass close to one another before their paths begin to separate. The following photo shows how they will begin to travel away from one another.

2016 QE45 close pass
A CNEOS orbit diagram for 2016 QE45 showing its planned distance from Earth at midnight UTC, Saturday. The purple line represents the orbit of Venus. NASA/JPL/CNEOS
2016 QE45 orbit diagram
The CNEOS orbit diagram shows 2016 QE45 traveling away from Earth a few days after the close pass. NASA/JPL/CNEOS

CNEOS also assesses the risk of an impact based on these orbit models, and lists this risk using its Sentry system. Neither 2016 QE45 nor 2021 FK3 were listed on the Sentry system when Newsweek searched.

Asteroid impacts can pose a threat to Earth due to the energy they release upon reaching our atmosphere.

NASA announced Wednesday the space agency will participate in a hypothetical asteroid impact scenario to see how international agencies respond.

The fictional event is being led by CNEOS, and will occur during the 7th IAA Planetary Defence Conference, which is due to start April 26 and last five days.

NASA's planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson said: "Each time we participate in an exercise of this nature, we learn more about who the key players are in a disaster event, and who needs to know what information, and when."

A stock image shows an artist's impression of an asteroid in space against a backdrop of stars. Asteroids in orbit around the Sun sometimes pass close to Earth. dottedhippo/iStock