KEY POINTS

  • NASA spots a planet-killer asteroid approaching Earth
  • The approaching space rock is a potentially hazardous asteroid
  • The asteroid is big enough to cause a major impact event

A potentially hazardous asteroid that’s big enough to trigger a nuclear winter and mass extinction events on Earth following a collision will intersect the planet’s path this weekend. According to the data collected by NASA, the approaching asteroid is larger than the tallest man-made structure in the world.

NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) has identified the incoming asteroid as 163373 (2002 PZ39). As indicated in CNEOS’ database, this asteroid is currently traveling toward Earth at a speed of almost 34,000 miles per hour.

CNEOS estimated that 163373 (2002 PZ39) has a diameter of around 3,250 feet, making it significantly bigger than the Burj Dubai, which is currently the tallest building in the world. Given its incredible size, 163373 (2002 PZ39) will be the biggest asteroid to approach Earth this month.

According to CNEOS, 163373 (2002 PZ39) is an Apollo asteroid, which means it is known to intersect Earth’s path around the Sun from time to time. Due to its dangerous orbit and massive size, approaching space rock has been labeled as a potentially hazardous asteroid.

“Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are currently defined based on parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth,” NASA explained in a statement.

Since 163373 (2002 PZ39) follows an Earth-crossing orbit, it has a chance of colliding with Earth every time it passes the planet. If the asteroid collides with Earth, it will cause a major impact event.

NASA and other space agencies have warned that kilometer-sized asteroids can do a lot of damage to Earth. If 163373 (2002 PZ39) hits the planet, its initial blast would instantly kill off millions.

Then, due to its size, the energy from its explosion would be enough to trigger a global nuclear winter that could last for years. The harsh environmental changes triggered by the asteroid’s impact could lead to the mass extinction of different species.

According to CNEOS, 163373 (2002 PZ39)’s near-Earth intersection will happen on Feb. 15 at 6:05 a.m. EST. During this time, the asteroid will pass over the planet from a distance of 0.03860 astronomical units or around 3.6 million miles away.

Asteroid Impacts A new report indicates that a total of 26 nuclear-level asteroid impacts have hit Earth since 2000. Photo: Donald Davis