AN ASTEROID flying through space at speeds of nearly 53,000mph is expected to safely swing past Earth next week.
The asteroid’s flyby is tracked by NASA’s automated systems at the Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) in California. The rocky body has been named Asteroid 2012 XA133 after it was first confirmed in the solar system in December 2012.
Now, NASA expects the space rock to come flying by on a so-called “Earth close approach” this week on March 27.
But the asteroid will only come “close” in astronomical terms, which means it will be many millions of miles away.
NASA said: “As they orbit the Sun, NEOs 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.”
On March 27, the rock will zip by from a distance of about 0.04453 astronomical units.
A single astronomical unit describes the distance from our planet to the Sun – about 93 million miles (149.6 million km).
Asteroid XA133 will cut this down to about 4.1 million miles (6.66 million km).
In other words, even at its closest, the space rock will be 17.33 times as far away as the Moon is.
The asteroid belongs to a family of asteroids and comets known as near-Earth objects (NEOs).
NEOs frequently visit the planet and ping-up on NASA’s radars.
The space rocks are also tracked by the European Space Agency.
According to NASA, the comets and asteroids have all been nudged into Earth’s cosmic “neighbourhood” by the gravitational push and pull of other planets in the solar system.
NASA said: “Some asteroids and comets follow orbital paths that take them much closer to the Sun and therefore Earth – than usual.
“If a comet or asteroid’s approach brings it to within 1.3 astronomical units of the Sun, we call it a near-Earth object.
“Near-Earth objects may provide needed raw materials for future interplanetary exploration.
“Some should also be fairly easy to land on for future exploration.”
Asteroid XA133 is estimated to measure somewhere in the region of 590ft and 1,279ft (180m and 390m) across.
At the upper end of NASA’s estimate, the rock stands taller than the Empire State Building in New York, US.
The asteroid is also flying through space at speeds of about 23.67km per second or 52,948mph (85,212kmh).
Although big asteroids have struck Earth in the past, NASA does not know of any threat to the planet’s safety.
NASA said: “In fact, as best as we can tell, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years.
(With inputs from express.co.uk)