Asteroid alert: A 853FT space rock is about to scrape past Earth at 33,700MPH

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The imposing asteroid, dubbed 2019 RC, is headed our way on a "Close Approach" trajectory. NASA expects the asteroid to come closest to Earth tonight around 9.43pm BST (4.43pm EDT). The asteroid was only discovered early this month on September 2 but NASA has since dubbed the rock a Near-Earth Object or NEO. The US space agency has also classified the rock as “potentially hazardous” to Earth’s safety.

Asteroid RC will fly past Earth tonight at breakneck speeds of around 15.08km per second or 33,732mph (54,288kph).

NASA estimates the rock measures somewhere in the range of 393.7ft to 853ft (120m to 260m) in diameter.

An asteroid this big is approximately 2.7 times taller than Big Ben’s clock tower in London.

If the asteroid struck a populated city like London, the force of impact could kill thousands of people.

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Because of these factors, Asteroid RC has been classified as a “Potentially Hazardous Asteroid” or PHA.

According to a 2015 study on asteroid dangers, PHAs are all asteroids measuring upwards of 459ft (140m) in diameter.

The space rocks must also intersect Earth’s orbit of the Sun from a distance of at least 4.6 million miles (7.5 million km).

The term “potentially” does not imply an immediate risk of impact tonight but rather the possibility of an impact in the future.

The asteroid study, penned by astronomer David Perna and colleagues, reads: “PHAs are large enough to survive passage through the Earth's atmosphere and cause extensive damage on impact, and have orbits which could in principle bring them to collide with our planet within the next century.

The study also noted studying these rocky objects is “essential” towards safeguarding the planet from future cataclysms.

According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), Asteroid 2019 RC will approach Earth tonight from a distance of 0.04465 astronomical units (au).

A single astronomical unit describes the distance from Earth to the Sun – about 93 million miles (149.6 million km).

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In other words, NASA expects the asteroid to safely miss Earth from a distance of about 4.1 million miles (6.67 million km).

The distance is equal to 17.38 times the distance from Earth to the Moon.

But on the grand scale of the universe, margins of safety like this are incredibly small.

NASA said: “As they orbit the Sun, Near-Earth Objects can occasionally approach close to Earth.

Note that a ‘close’ passage astronomically can be very far away in human terms: millions or even tens of millions of kilometers.