KEY POINTS

  • The biggest asteroid to approach this month is arriving this week
  • The massive space rock is classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid
  • The asteroid is big enough to destroy an entire city upon impact

NASA warned that the biggest and most dangerous asteroid to approach Earth in January is arriving this week. Given the asteroid’s size, it will surely cause a major impact event if it hits Earth.

According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the approaching asteroid is known as 2019 UO. The agency noted that this asteroid is currently flying towards Earth at a speed of 21,000 miles per hour.

As stated in CNEOS’ database, 2019 UO has an estimated diameter of about 1,804 feet. This makes it almost twice as tall as the Empire State Building.

After analyzing the trajectory of 2019 UO, NASA officially classified it as an Apollo asteroid. According to the agency, the asteroid follows a very wide orbit inside the Solar System. As it travels around other planets, it occasionally intersects Earth’s path as it goes around the Sun.

Due to its natural orbit and its massive size, 2019 UO has been labeled as a potentially hazardous asteroid.

“Potentially Hazardous Asteroids 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. “Specifically, all asteroids with a minimum orbit intersection distance of 0.05 [astronomical units] or less and an absolute magnitude of 22.0 or less are considered [potentially hazardous asteroids].

Most asteroids that fly close to Earth are not that big, which means they will most like burn up and explode in the atmosphere during a collision. Unfortunately, this won’t be the case for 2019 UO if it hits Earth.

Due to its size and current speed, it can successfully penetrate the atmosphere if it strikes the planet. Instead of burning up in the sky, it will hit the ground and cause a major impact event. Given its diameter, an impact from 2019 UO can create a crater that’s about 3 to 6 miles wide. The energy that would be released from its explosion could be powerful enough to wipe out an entire city.

According to CNEOS, 2019 UO’s upcoming near-Earth approach is expected to happen on Jan. 10 at 6:48 pm EST. During this time, the massive asteroid will be about 0.03021 astronomical units or roughly 2.8 million miles from the planet’s center.

asteroids_passing_earth Pictured; an artistic illustration of an asteroid flying by Earth. Photo: NASA