Night Sky Gaze

Empire State Building-Sized Asteroid Passes By Earth Over the Weekend

  • On August 10, 2019, an asteroid the size of the Empire State Building passed by Earth. The Asteroid 2006 QQ23 measured 1,870 feet.
  • The asteroid’s size is not that uncommon. In fact, there are approximately 900 other asteroids “near” Earth that are larger than the Asteroid 2006 QQ23.
  • Although asteroids rarely make contact with Earth, in 2013 a meteor that broke off from an asteroid caused 1,500 injuries in Russia.
  • NASA is currently developing a defense spacecraft to prohibit large asteroids from ever entering Earth’s atmosphere.

Over the weekend on Saturday, August 10, an asteroid the size of the Empire State Building passed by Earth to say hello on its epic galactic “road trip.”

Asteroid 2006 QQ23 was categorized as a “near-earth object” but since you’re reading this, it’s safe to say the asteroid was nowhere near close enough to do any harm. It soared by Earth at 10,400 mph, getting within 4.6 million miles.

Phew—close call!

Asteroid 2006 QQ23’s Size Not That Uncommon

This gigantic rock measured 1,870 ft. in diameter which is approximately 400 feet “higher” than the Empire State Building. Imagining a rock that’s one-third of a mile long flying through space and hitting Earth can be quite frightening. However, its size and frequency aren’t that uncommon.

Lindley Johnson, NASA’s very first Planetary Defense Officer, says that asteroids similar in size to Asteroid 2006 QQ23 pass by Earth at least 6 times a year. In fact, the largest known asteroid that orbits Earth’s sun is 21 miles long.

Johnson and colleague Kelly Fast mention that NASA’s Near Earth Object Observations Program has cataloged close to 900 asteroids near Earth that are larger than 2006 QQ23. The average size of these other 900 space rocks is more than half a mile at 3,281 ft.

Can Large Asteroids Make Impact With Earth?

Usually, Earth’s atmosphere burns asteroids before they have a chance to penetrate. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for space debris to enter the atmosphere. In 2013, the Chelyabinsk meteor entered Earth’s atmosphere above Russia on February 15.

The meteor broke off from a near-earth asteroid and exploded over the Chelyabinsk Oblast at 97,000 ft that caused a massive shock wave. Approximately 1,500 people were injured although not from the meteor itself. Broken glass and destroyed buildings from the shock wave contributed to the injuries.

NASA’s Monitoring System Keeps Earth’s Inhabitants Safe

NASA has the ability to track asteroids through space. In fact, it has tracked Asteroid 2006 QQ23’s movement from 1901 all the way to 2200. NASA will be fully aware if and when an asteroid poses a serious threat to Earth.

Currently, NASA is developing a defense spacecraft called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). The spacecraft will intentionally slam into an asteroid in order to measure the success or failure of redirecting it off course.

This data will be used to create a viable defense plan if a massive asteroid was ever threatening the lives on Earth. Being able to avert an asteroid’s path before it even comes close to entering Earth’s atmosphere is an important advantage.

“A great defense always beats a great offense.”

Bryan Brammer