KEY POINTS

  • One of the biggest asteroids will approach Earth next week
  • The asteroid follows an Earth-crossing orbit
  • The asteroid is big enough to cause a major impact event on Earth

NASA has warned that one of the biggest asteroids to approach Earth this month is about to make its debut next week. According to the agency’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the asteroid follows an orbit that directly intersects the planet’s path.

The incoming asteroid has been identified as 216258 (2006 WH1). As indicated in the data collected by CNEOS, the asteroid is moving towards Earth at a speed of over 26,000 miles per hour. The agency estimated that the asteroid has a diameter of 1,772 feet, which makes it significantly taller than the Willis Tower in Chicago.

The 216258 (2006 WH1) asteroid belongs to a family of asteroids known as Apollos. Similar to other Apollo asteroids, 216258 (2006 WH1) has a very wide orbit that covers many cosmic bodies in the Solar System such as Earth, Venus, Mercury and the Sun. However, from time to time, the asteroid’s orbit intersects with that of other planets such as Earth and Mars.

Due to the space rock’s massive size and its natural orbit, it has been classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid. This means the asteroid is capable of approaching Earth at dangerously close distances during its flybys.

“Potentially Hazardous Asteroids are currently defined based on parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth,” NASA said 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],” the agency added.

Given the asteroid’s current speed and massive size, it will certainly cause a major impact event if it ends up colliding with Earth during its upcoming visit next week. If it hits the planet, the energy that would be released by the massive explosion would be powerful enough to completely destroy multiple cities.

According to CNEOS, 216258 (2006 WH1) is expected to debut in Earth’s vicinity on Dec. 20 at 10:17 am EST. During this time, the dangerous asteroid will be about 0.03904 astronomical units or around 3.6 million miles from the planet’s center.