NASA warns asteroid larger than Empire State Building headed towards Earth this weekend

An asteroid the size that could be taller than the Empire State Building in New York is approaching Earth at more than 18,000 miles per hour and will arrive at its closest to Earth this weekend.

The asteroid, dubbed 388945 (2008 TZ3) is the largest of five asteroids to approach Earth between Friday and Monday, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) estimates the asteroid is between 220 and 490 meters long. For reference, the Empire State Building is about 443 meters (1,453 feet) tall.

Asteroid 2008 TZ3 is also covering 8.22 kilometers of space every second, at a speed of about 18,388 miles per hour.

Luckily, the asteroid is expected to miss Earth by about 3.6 million miles when it passes at around 5:18 pm EST on Sunday.

“2008 TZ3 will fly by at about 15 times the distance from the Moon; we know the orbit of this asteroid very accurately, and we can predict with confidence that it cannot get closer than about 15 lunar distances on May 15, which means it won’t get closer than about 3.6 million miles,” CNEOS director Paul Chodas, told Newsweek.

According to JPL, NASA considers any object measuring larger than 150 meters that passes within 4.6 million miles (7.5 million kilometers or 19.5 times the distance to the moon) “a potentially hazardous object.”

Asteroid 2008 TZ3 could have a devastating effect if it ever did impact the earth. The Independent reported the meteor that likely caused the 1908 Tunguska event — an approximately 12 megaton (12 million tons of TNT) blast that flattened forested area’s around Russia’s Tunguska river — measured between 100 and 200 meters wide, less than half the size of 2008 TZ3 . The atomic bomb the US dropped on Nagasaki was the equivalent of a 16 kiloton blast (16,000 tons of TNT).

Researchers calculate that asteroids measuring 100 meters in diameter impacting the Earth can cause about 10 megatons worth of destruction.

Researchers believe the asteroid that likely wiped out the dinosaurs was between about 10 and 15 kilometers wide, which is as much as 30 times larger than 2008 TZ3.

Sunday is not the first time asteroid 2008 TZ3 will have passed close to Earth. Asteroid 2008 TZ3 was first spotted by the Mt. Lemmon Survey near Tuscon, Arizona in 2008 and passes by Earth once every 732 days (almost exactly two years) as it orbits the sun, according to The Telegraph.

In May 2020, asteroid 2008 TZ3 passed within about 1.7 million miles of Earth. NASA estimates it won’t come back that close to Earth until around May of 2163.

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