• NASA detected a massive asteroid approaching Earth
  • 1997 BQ is an Earth-crossing "potentially hazardous" asteroid
  • The approaching asteroid could cause a major impact event

NASA’s asteroid tracking system has spotted the biggest asteroid that will fly past Earth this month. Measuring at almost 5,000 kilometers wide, the approaching asteroid has been classified as “potentially hazardous.”

The incoming asteroid has been identified by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) as 1997 BQ. According to CNEOS, this space rock is currently moving across the Solar System towards Earth at a speed of over 42,000 kilometers per hour.

As indicated in the data collected by the agency, 1997 BQ measures about 1.5 kilometers or around 4,921 feet wide, making it the biggest asteroid to approach Earth month.

The approaching asteroid was first observed on Jan. 16, 1997. After analyzing its trajectory, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was able to create a diagram showing the asteroid’s orbit.

As seen in the diagram, the asteroid follows a very wide path around the Sun, which extends beyond the orbit of Mars. Occasionally, the asteroid passes through the path followed by Earth around the Sun. Since it follows an Earth-crossing orbit, the asteroid has been labeled as an Apollo asteroid.

Due to the asteroid’s massive size and natural orbit, it has been classified as “potentially hazardous.”

“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 PHAs.”

Given its size, 1997 BQ is capable of causing a major impact event if it collides with the planet. The energy that would be released from its impact would be powerful enough to instantly wipe out large areas.

Fortunately, 1997 BQ is not in danger of colliding with Earth. According to CNEOS, the asteroid is expected to fly past Earth from a very safe distance. 1997 BQ will zip past the planet on Thursday (May 21) at 4:45 p.m. EDT. During this time, the asteroid will be about 0.04115 astronomical units or roughly 6.2 million kilometers from the planet’s center.

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