Asteroid That's 3 Times As Long As a Football Field Will Whiz by Earth Thursday

Asteroid illustration
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Summer is the season for tourists, and that includes a cosmic traveler — one that's three times the length of a football field — that's expected to visit Earth's neighborhood later this week.

We're using the term "neighborhood" loosely here; the heavenly tourist (yes, it's an asteroid), known as 2008 KV2, is expected to zip by at a distance of about 4.2 million miles (6.7 million kilometers) from Earth on Thursday (June 27). But even though this visitor will be far away, the event's still notable; it's not every day that such a big space rock hurtles by our planet.

To put 2008 KV2's distance from Earth into perspective, the moon is about 238,900 miles (384,400 km) away from us, and the asteroid will be more than 17 times that distance. [Black Marble Images: Earth at Night]

Scientists discovered the asteroid in 2008 and promptly set about calculating how often it came within Earth's vicinity; the researchers produced estimates of its travels between 1900 and 2199. It turns out, 2008 KV2 is a fairly frequent visitor. Like Earth, it orbits the sun, but it doesn't always come that close to us. Even so, after Thursday's trip, 2008 KV2 is expected to pass by Earth again in 2021 and twice in 2022, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Why is NASA paying so much attention to this asteroid, which could measure up to 1,082 feet (330 meters) across? The agency monitors all known near-Earth objects (NEOs) that venture into the zone between 91 million and 121 million miles (146 million and 195 million km) from the sun, meaning that an object is an NEO if "it can pass within about 30 million miles (50 million kilometers) of Earth's orbit," NASA says on its website.

2008 KV2 is passing with 0.05 astronomical units (AU) of Earth (according to JPL, it's coming within 0.045 AU of our planet). Because of that, and because of the object's size, the space rock is considered a "potentially hazardous asteroid," according to the Center for Near Earth Object Studies at JPL. (One AU is equal to the average distance between the Earth and the sun.)

However, this space tourist isn't lingering during its travels. The asteroid will zoom by Earth at more than 25,400 mph (40,800 km/h). It will be going so fast that it won't have time to celebrate the United Nation's Asteroid Day with us on June 30.

Oh well, maybe 2008 KV2 will stick around next time — which we're cool with, so long as it doesn't bump into Earth.

Originally published on Live Science.

Laura Geggel

Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.