An asteroid the size of the Eiffel Tower is heading towards Earth in December, but will cause no harm to life on the planet, according to scientists.
The asteroid, named 4660 Nereus, has been labelled as a “Potentially Hazardous Asteroid” by NASA meaning that its flight trajectory passes close enough to Earth to be worthy of monitoring. It’s important to note, however, that the closest Nereus will get to Earth is about 3.9 million kilometres, more than ten times as far away as the Moon.
Nereus is 330 metres long, making it larger than 90 per cent of asteroids, and belongs to the Apollo group of asteroids which are known to cross the path of the Earth as it orbits the sun. It was discovered in 1982 by US astronomer Eleanor F Helin, and orbits the sun every 664 days. It’s not due to make another ‘close’ pass until March 2, 2031.
The floating mass of rock was considered for various missions by scientists to investigate its make-up, but none have yet materialised. NASA once proposed to send its Robotic Asteroid Shoemaker Rendezvous (RASR) probe and Japan's space programme had plans to send its Hayabusa spacecraft, but on both occasions other target sites were chosen.
Back in August, asteroid Bennu threatened the Earth more than scientists had previously anticipated. The chances of the asteroid clobbering into Earth rose from 1-in-2,700 to 1-in-1,750 over the next century or two. But Davide Farnocchia, a scientist with NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: “We shouldn’t be worried about it too much”.