NASA is tracking a rogue asteroid as its orbit passes perilously close to Earth, it has emerged.
NASA is charged with leading the next space race, which could see mankind land on Mars in decades. But arguably as important is the US space agency’s other role in tracking asteroids. For without constant vigilance, an asteroid could slam into the Earth, with potentially apocalyptic repercussions for life.
The asteroid, identified by NASA as 2019 CG5, will make an Earth close approach this Saturday, February 16.
And NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) researchers have managed to pin-point the exact time the asteroid is expected to make its closest approach.
The space rock, the approximate size of a two-story house, will hurtle past our planet at 6.35pm PCT (2.35am GMT) on Sunday, February 17).
And despite the asteroid barreling through space at speeds topping 20,000 mph (32,300 kph), the asteroid would have most likely burnt-up in Earth’s atmosphere, even if it was on target to hit our planet.
At its closest, NASA has calculated the asteroid will come within 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km) of striking Earth.
Despite this being seemingly far too great a distance to warrant tracking the asteroid, it is a surprisingly small in astrological terms.
For example, this is the equivalent of only seven times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
Space is so mind-bogglingly huge that Astronomical Units (AU) are used to define the distances, with 1 AU equivalent to 93 million miles (149.6 million km).
The extraterrestrial revelation comes only days after three other asteroids were also classified as making Earth close approaches.
Few people appreciate how thousands of asteroids and comets classified as Near Earth Objects (NEOs) skim past the Earth every year.
But fortunately asteroids only rarely strike Earth and inflict catastrophic damage.
The smaller pieces of debris usually burn-up in Earth’s atmosphere before they reach terra firma.
Occasionally one or two asteroids will slip through and remind astronomers of the dangers lurking in the depths of space.
This happened in 2013 when a 65.6ft-wide (20m) asteroid, dubbed the Chelyabinsk Meteor, exploded over Russia and injured more than 1,000 people with shards of glass from broken windows.
The asteroid blew up with 30-times the force of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb and damaged thousands of buildings.
Today’s close flyby of the three asteroids is a reminder of the hundreds of thousands of asteroids and comets barrelling around the solar system every single day.
NASA said: “Every day, Earth is bombarded with more than 100 tons of dust and sand-sized particles.
“About once a year, an automobile-sized asteroid hits Earth’s atmosphere, creates an impressive fireball, and burns up before reaching the surface.
“Every 2,000 years or so, a meteoroid the size of a football field hits Earth and causes significant damage to the area.
“Finally, only once every few million years, an object large enough to threaten Earth’s civilisation comes along.”