Huge Asteroid to Pass by Earth on April 19

Call it a close shave of a celestial sort.

On April 19, an asteroid roughly the size of the Rock of Gibraltar will speed safely by Earth at a distance of 1.1 million miles — or less than five times the distance from Earth to the moon.

NASA says there’s no chance the 2,000-foot-wide space rock will hit our planet. But the flyby — remarkably close by astronomical standards — serves as a reminder that somewhere out there an asteroid may have our name on it.

“The odds of an impact for asteroids are very low on ‘human timescales’ (a hundred years are so),” Dr. Amy Mainzer, an astronomer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told NBC MACH in an email. “However, because the consequences could potentially be severe, it’s not something we should completely ignore.”

Severe may be an understatement. If an asteroid like this one were to strike Earth, it might blast an impact crater about 10 kilometers wide, Dr. William F. Bottke, a planetary scientist and asteroid expert at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., told MACH in an email.

What do we know about this asteroid, which is formally called 2014 JO25? Not much beyond its trajectory and the fact that its surface is about twice as reflective as the moon’s. The asteroid will be so close and so bright that, with nothing more than a small telescope, it may be visible in the night sky for a day or two.

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SOURCE: NBC News, David Freeman