The speedy asteroid, dubbed Asteroid 209 GC6, is headed towards us on a so-called “Earth Close Approach”. NASA predicts the close brush will see the asteroid shoot by in the morning hours of Thursday, April 18. Asteroid trackers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California have narrowed this approach down to 7.41am BST (6.41am UTC). During this brief but tense moment, the space rock will come closer to the Earth than the orbit of the Moon.
When this happens, the asteroid will fly by from a distance of approximately 0.57 Lunar Distances (LD).
A single Lunar Distance describes the distance from the Earth to its lunar satellite and measures on average 238,856 miles (384,402km)
If NASA’s calculations are correct, CG6 will slash this down to just 136,147.9 miles (219,108.8km).
But there is no need to panic just yet because the asteroid’s orbit of the Sun does not directly intersect with the Earth tomorrow.
Instead, the asteroid will safely swing by our home planet and carry on its journey around the inner rings of the solar system.
After this happens, NASA expects to see the space rock zip by Earth again this year on November 21.
Asteroid GC6 is an Apollo-type asteroid with an orbit similar to that of Asteroid 1862 Apollo.
NASA’s JPL estimates the rock measures somewhere between 42.6ft and 95ft (13m to 39m) across.
An asteroid this big can be compared to three London double-decker buses, at its biggest, or just one-and-a-half at the lower end of the estimate.
Near-Earth Objects can occasionally approach close to Earth
And the space rock is believed to be flying through space at a speed of 5.62km per second or 12,570mph (20,229kmh).
The space rock was first observed flying towards Earth on March 31 this year.
NASA has since calculated its orbit, speed and number of close approaches up to 100 years into the future.
Asteroids like GC6 are known as “Near-Earth Object” or NEOs.
Astronomers classify or comets or asteroids on close approach trajectories as NEOs in a bid to assess their potential threats.
On the cosmic scale of distances, some of the approaches might seem like lifetimes away.
But NASA said: “As they orbit the Sun, Near-Earth Objects can occasionally approach close to Earth.
“Note that a ‘close’ passage astronomically can be very far away in human terms: millions or even tens of millions of kilometres.”
Once GC6 passes Earth, NASA does not expect the asteroid to come this close to Earth again.
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