NASA’s asteroid monitoring system has spotted an approaching asteroid that follows an Earth-crossing orbit. According to the agency’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the asteroid is expected to approach Earth before Christmas.

The incoming asteroid has been identified as 2017 XQ60. As indicated in CNEOS’s database, this asteroid is currently flying towards Earth at an impressive speed of over 56,000 kilometers per hour. The agency estimated that the asteroid has a diameter of 256 feet, making it slightly longer than the wingspan of a Boeing 747 airplane.

The 2017 XQ60 is officially classified as an Apollo asteroid. This means that like other asteroids that belong to this group, 2017 XQ60 follows a very wide orbit within the solar system. From time to time, its orbit intersects with that of Earth’s as the planet completes its cycle around the Sun.

The approaching asteroid was first spotted on Dec. 13, 2017. Based on CNEOS’ observations on 2017 XQ60’s trajectory, the asteroid regularly visits Earth’s neighborhood on almost a yearly basis.

The last time it approached Earth was on Dec. 21, 2018. During this time, the asteroid approached the planet from a distance of 0.03431 astronomical units or roughly 3.2 million miles away.

For this year’s visit, the asteroid is expected to fly past Earth on Dec. 21 at 9:10 pm EST. During its approach, the asteroid will be about 0.02827 astronomical units or around 2.6 million miles from the planet’s center.

The 2017 XQ60 asteroid is not expected to return to Earth until Dec. 21, 2020. According to CNEOS, the asteroid will approach the planet from a distance of 0.03204 astronomical units or about 3 million miles next year.

Based on CNEOS’ projections on the asteroid’s near-Earth approaches, it seems the planet is not in danger of experiencing an impact event from 2017 XQ60 in the near future. Based on the agency’s database, the asteroid will be farther away from Earth each time it passes.

So far, 2017 XQ60’s farthest distance from Earth is projected to be at 0.49220 astronomical units or 46 million miles away. According to CNEOS, this will be the asteroid’s distance from Earth during its visit in 2037.

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