This asteroid, named 2021 NY1, will sail harmlessly past our planet, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, but is still considered a Near-Earth Object (NEO) because it will pass within about 120 million miles (193 million kilometers) of the sun.
While asteroids like this pose no threat to life on Earth, NASA monitors all NEOs on the off chance that their orbits might change in the future, bringing them closer to a collision with our planet. Studying the characteristics of NEOs can also reveal new information about the early days of the solar system, as most asteroids are rocky fragments originating from that time.
An asteroid zooms past Earth
By that standard, asteroid 2021 NY1 will make a relatively close approach of about 970,000 miles (1,560,000 km) away from Earth — or just under four times the distance between Earth and the moon. On Wednesday (Sept. 22), the fall equinox will bring the Earth about 12 hours of daylight, 12 hours of night and a renegade space rock measuring about three times the size of the Statue of Liberty.
Asteroid 2021 NY1 is a decent-sized rock, measuring between about 425 and 985 feet in diameter (130 to 300 meters), or somewhere between three and six Statues of Liberty tall, according to NASA’s NEO database. The freewheeling rock is cruising through space at about 21,000 mph (33,800 km/h) — or roughly 27 times the speed of sound.
Asteroid 2020 QG flew about 1,830 miles from Earth on Aug. 16, 2020. Tony Dunn from orbitsimulator.com called it the “closest-known flyby that didn’t hit our planet,” in a tweet.
For what it’s worth, this autumnal asteroid is nowhere near the closest ever to pass through our neighborhood. That honor goes to the asteroid 2020 QG, which zipped just 1,830 miles (2,950 km) above the Indian Ocean on Aug. 16, 2020, Live Science’s sister site Space.com reported. No known asteroids have come closer — without burning up in the atmosphere or hitting our planet’s surface.