There are hundreds of thousands of loose asteroids flying around the solar system, not including the millions locked into the asteroid belt, and many constantly whizz by Earth. One such asteroid has been designated 2021 DE and NASA is keeping a close eye on the space rock, which is roughly 50 metres long, making it twice as big as a blue whale – the largest animal to ever live on Earth.
According to analysis from the space agency, the asteroid is travelling through the solar system at 26 kilometres per second.
This translates to more than 93,000 kilometres per hour or 58,000mph.
For reference, the speed of sound is ‘only’ 1,235 kilometres per hour.
NASA has revealed the asteroid will reach its closest point to Earth on Saturday, February 27, when it will be 4.2 times the distance of the Earth and the Moon, or more than 1.5 million kilometres from us.
Nonetheless, this is still close enough for the asteroid to be considered a “near Earth object” (NEO) by NASA.
The space agency uses these unique flybys to uncover the history of the solar system, as they are often remnants of fragments of our early planetary neighbourhood.
NASA said on its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) website: “NEOs are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood.
“The scientific interest in comets and asteroids is due largely to their status as the relatively unchanged remnant debris from the solar system formation process some 4.6 billion years ago.
READ MORE: What killed the dinosaurs? Harvard astronomers revisit asteroid theory
“Of the more than 600,000 known asteroids in our Solar System, more than 20,000 are NEOs.
“NEOs could potentially hit our planet and, depending on their size, produce considerable damage.
“While the chance of a large object hitting Earth is very small, it would produce a great deal of destruction.
“NEOs thus merit active detection and tracking efforts.”