The threatening asteroid, dubbed by NASA Asteroid 2012 DF31, is headed for a so-called “Earth Close Approach”. NASA predicts the asteroid will swing by Earth on the afternoon of Saturday, March 8. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has narrowed this passage down to 12.44pm GMT (7.44am EST) tomorrow. And when the asteroid zips by, DF31 will reach incredible speeds of around 33,755.5mph (54,324kph) or 15.09km per second.
In other words, the space rock is now flying towards Earth’s corner of space at 44.3-times the speed of sound.
NASA’s JPL further estimates Asteroid DF31 measures somewhere in the range of 114.8ft to 255.9ft (35m to 78m) across.
At 255.9ft in diameter, the space rock is about 9.5-times the length of a London double-decker bus or 40-times as long as a Queen Size bed.
Even at the lower end of NASA’s scale, the asteroid could still be about 8.5-times as long as a Volkswagen Beetle car.
Thankfully, there is nothing to fear tomorrow because NASA’s asteroid trackers expect DF31 to miss Earth entirely.
Asteroid DF31 is a so-called “Near-Earth Object” (NEO), which means its orbit sometimes intersects Earth’s journey around the Sun.
When NEOs threaten to swing by our home planet, NASA’s radar systems calculate their velocity, size and trajectory.
In most cases, NEO comets and asteroids swing by without striking Earth but NASA pays close attention to their paths regardless.
READ MORE: How often do asteroids hit the Earth?
The US space agency explained: “A relatively small number of near-Earth objects pass close enough to Earth and are large enough in size to warrant close observation.
“That’s because the gravitational tug of the planets could, over time, cause an object’s orbital path to evolve into an Earth-crossing orbit. This allows for the possibility of a future collision.”
In the event of an approaching asteroid strike, NASA said knowing the shape, size and velocity of a space rock can help knock it out of orbit.
Tomorrow, Asteroid DF31 will approach the Earth from an approximate distance of 0.02383 astronomical units (au).
Just one astronomical unit measures about 93 million miles (149.6 million km) and describes the distance from Earth to the Sun.
This means DF31 will fly past Earth from about 2.2 million miles (3.56 million km), which is 9.27-times the distance from the Moon to Earth.
Once the space rock shoots past the planet, it will visit Earth again on the morning of July 17, 2020.
After that, it will fly past Venus in August 2020 and August 2021 before it approaches Earth again on October 31, 2021.