Huge asteroids — the sizes of cars, houses, a commercial jetliner and the Empire State Building — have and will come close to Earth in the coming days, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The next one, 1996 VB3, will pass by Earth on Wednesday. It’s measured at 420 feet — the size of some office buildings. The asteroid will come 2.1 million miles close to Earth.
However, the biggest asteroid scientists are eyeing right now is 2004 UE, which is expected to pass by earth on Nov. 13. It’s measured at 1,246 feet. The Empire State Building in New York City is measured at 1,250 feet, not including the tip.
Earlier this month, other massive asteroids whizzed by the planet. Four large ones passed by Earth on Oct. 19, ranging from 318,000 miles to 2.9 miles in its distance from Earth.
NASA defines a near-Earth object as an asteroid or comet coming less than 1.3 times the distance from Earth to the Sun. The distance from the Earth to the sun is about 93 million miles.
Scientists said most NEOs don’t pose a risk to the planet at all; however, they are developing plans for warning systems and diversion tactics should an asteroid endanger the planet. NASA plans to launch another mission next month to test whether humans might be able to alter an asteroid’s orbit — practice in case Earth ever has a killer rock headed this way.
Meanwhile, A NASA spacecraft named Lucy rocketed into the sky with diamonds Saturday morning on a 12-year quest to explore eight asteroids.
Seven of the mysterious space rocks are among swarms of asteroids sharing Jupiter’s orbit, thought to be the pristine leftovers of planetary formation.
Lucy is named after the 3.2 million-year-old skeletal remains of a human ancestor found in Ethiopia nearly a half-century ago. That discovery got its name from the 1967 Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," prompting NASA to send the spacecraft soaring with band members’ lyrics and other luminaries’ words of wisdom imprinted on a plaque. The spacecraft also carried a disc made of lab-grown diamonds for one of its science instruments.
Lucy’s $981 million mission is the first to aim for Jupiter’s so-called Trojan entourage: thousands — if not millions — of asteroids that share the gas giant’s expansive orbit around the sun. Some of the Trojan asteroids precede Jupiter in its orbit, while others trail it.
Lucy will swing past Earth next October and again in 2024 to get enough gravitational oomph to make it all the way out to Jupiter’s orbit. On the way there, the spacecraft will zip past asteroid Donaldjohanson between Mars and Jupiter. The aptly named rock will serve as a 2025 warm-up act for the science instruments.
Drawing power from two huge circular solar wings, Lucy will chase down five asteroids in the leading pack of Trojans in the late 2020s. The spacecraft will then zoom back toward Earth for another gravity assist in 2030. That will send Lucy back out to the trailing Trojan cluster, where it will zip past the final two targets in 2033 for a record-setting eight asteroids visited in a single mission.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.