A GIANT asteroid barreling through space 20-times faster than the speed of sound will approach as close as the Moon just two days after it was first observed, NASA’s asteroid trackers have revealed.
The asteroid, dubbed by NASA Asteroid 2019 CS5, will fly by on a so-called “Earth Close Approach” this evening. NASA’s astronomers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, expect CS5 to approach around 7.08pm GMT (UTC). As the asteroid swings by, the space rock will surpass incredible speeds of more than 14,780mph or 6.61km per second. This means the asteroid will dash past our home planet nearly 20-times faster than the speed of sound.
When this happens, the space rock will approach Earth from a distance just 1.15-times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
To make matters even more terrifying, the asteroid’s approach comes two days after it was first spotted barreling towards Earth.
Asteroid CS6 was first observed by NASA’s JPL on Wednesday, February 13, and as of Friday morning (February 15), was last tracked on February 14.
The JPL estimates CS5 measures somewhere between 59ft and 127.9ft (18m and 39m) in diameter.
In more Earthly terms, the asteroid is about 4.6-times as long as a London double-decker bus and 9.5-times longer than a Volkswagen Beetle car.
Even towards the lower end of the estimate, the space rock is believed to be about nine times as long as a Queen Size bed and about three times taller than an average giraffe.
Much smaller asteroids have pelted the Earth in the past, causing widespread chaos and destruction.
When an undetected asteroid struck Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia, in 2013 it injured more than 1,000 people and damaged more than 7,000 buildings in a wide radius.
The so-called Chelyabinsk meteor measured no more than 65.6ft (20m) in diameter but scientists did not see it until it was too late.
At the time, NASA’s scientists dubbed the asteroid strike a “cosmic wake-up call” to the threat of dangerous asteroids lurking in the depths of space.
Very few of these bodies are potential hazards to Earth
Hundreds of tonnes of space debris and tiny meteorites slam into the Earth’s atmosphere on a daily basis but rarely does a genuine threat emerge.
However, thousands of so-called “Near Earth Objects” (NEOs) like Asteroid CS5 zip by the Earth nearly every day, missing the planet by cosmically irrelevant distances.
NEOs are all asteroids and comets which cross paths with the Earth’s orbit at some point in time, often coming dangerously close to our home world.
NASA explained: “Very few of these bodies are potential hazards to Earth, but the more we know and understand about them, the better prepared we will be to take appropriate measures if one is heading our way.
“Knowing the size, shape, mass, composition and structure of these objects will help determine the best way to divert a space rock found to be on an Earth-threatening path.”
Thankfully, Asteroid CS5 will swing by tonight without coming close enough to strike the planet.
At its closest, CS5 will approach Earth from a distance of around 0.00294 astronomical units (au) or 1.5 Lunar Distances (LD).
One astronomical distance is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun and is equal to roughly 93 million miles (149.6 million km).
Asteroid CS5 will cut this distance down drastically to just 273,290 miles (439,817km) tonight.
NASA said: “As they orbit the Sun, Near-Earth Objects can occasionally approach close to Earth.
“Note that a ‘close’ passage astronomically can be very far away in human terms: millions or even tens of millions of kilometres.”