A massive asteroid that may be bigger than the length of two football fields is set to fly past Earth on Christmas Day, according to NASA.
The space agency says asteroid 501647 (designated 2014 SD224) will make its closest approach around 8:20 p.m. UTC (3:20 p.m. ET) on December 25, coming within 0.02019 astronomical units or approximately 3 million kilometres of the Earth’s surface.
NASA says the asteroid, which is travelling at a speed of 10 kilometres per second, has a diameter between 92 and 210 metres. This means it could range from the size of the Statue of Liberty to the length of two NFL-size football fields.
According to NASA, the asteroid was first discovered in 2014 and is classified as an Aten asteroid. The agency says space rocks in this category have orbits that intersect with Earth’s, making close approaches more likely.
Considering its size and potential distance, NASA says Asteroid 501647 is considered a “potentially hazardous” Near-Earth Object (NEO) and is being tracked by the space agency. However, NASA says the asteroid poses no threat to humans.
NEOs are defined as space objects, such as asteroids or comets, that come within 1.3 astronomical units (195 million kilometres) of the sun. If the object is larger than 140 metres across, it is considered a potentially hazardous object (PHO).
NASA reports that its researchers have spotted nearly 25,000 NEOs.
In addition to 2014 SD224, NASA says two other asteroids known as 2020 XY and 2020 YM1 are expected to fly past Earth on Christmas. Both of these asteroids are also considered NEOs, but are much smaller than asteroid 501647 and pose no threat to Earth, according to the agency.