Enormous Asteroid Traveling at 72,000 mph Only Just Spotted Nearing Earth

An asteroid that could measure more than 1,200 feet across—as tall as the Empire State Building—is set to fly safely past Earth later this week after being discovered just a few days ago.

The space rock, dubbed 2022 OE2, will make a close approach to our planet on Wednesday, figures from NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) database show.

At 8:23 pm ET on that day, the asteroid is predicted to come within around 3.2 million miles of Earth in its own orbit around the sun.

This is around 13 times the average distance between the Earth and the moon and, as such, there is no threat of a collision with our planet.

Asteroids are rocky objects that orbit the sun, much like planets, although they are significantly smaller.

Estimating the size of asteroids is tricky because astronomers often have to work out how big the object is based on how bright it appears in the sky.

“The bigger it is, the more light it will reflect and thus the brighter it will seem,” Greg Brown, an astronomer at Royal Observatory Greenwich in the United Kingdom, previously told Newsweek. “However, this requires an assumption of how reflective the material it is made from is, which can vary greatly. Add on a number of other complications and the actual size of an object can be very different from the calculated value.”

Stock image: Artist’s illustration of an asteroid. A space rock, dubbed 2022 OE2, will make a close approach to our planet on Wednesday.

As a result of these uncertainties, astronomers usually provide a range for size estimates, which in the case of 2022 OE2 is 170-380 meters (558-1,247 feet).

At the upper end of this size range, the asteroid would stand as tall as the Empire State Building in New York City, which is around 1,250 feet in height.

According to the CNEOS figures, 2022 OE2 will be traveling at a staggering speed of nearly 72,000 miles per hour. This is about 40 times faster than a rifle bullet, and around one third as fast as a bolt of lightning.

The space rock is one of more than 29,000 near-Earth objects, or NEOs, that scientists have discovered to date—the vast majority of which are asteroids. The term is used to refer to any astronomical body that passes within around 30 million miles of our planet’s orbit.

The 2022 OE2 asteroid was only discovered on July 26, 2022, just a few days before its close approach. While astronomers have identified thousands of NEOs, these objects can actually be quite difficult to spot, partly because they are relatively small and dark in comparison to other objects in the sky.

Some NEOs are classified as “potentially hazardous,” meaning they have orbits that come within 4.6 million miles of Earth’s own path around the sun, while also measuring more than 140 meters (around 460 feet) in diameter.

The size of potentially hazardous objects means they could produce significant damage on at least a regional scale in the event that one of them collides with Earth. However, none of the potentially hazardous NEOs that we know about has any chance of colliding with the Earth over the next century or so, according to CNEOS manager Paul Chodas.

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