An asteroid is set to make a close approach to our planet next week with NASA branding it “potentially hazardous”.
The celestial rock, which has been named Asteroid 2020ND, is one and a half times larger than the London Eye.
NASA scientists warn the asteroid is flying towards Earth’s orbit and will come within just 0.034 astronomical units (AU) of our planet.
The asteroid measures in at 170m tall and is set to make its close approach to Earth next Friday, July 24.
The space agency said: “Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are currently defined based on parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth.
“Specifically, all asteroids with a minimum orbit intersection distance (MOID) of 0.05 au or less are considered PHAs.”
The asteroid could have been “nudged” into an orbit that will bring it into Earth’s region of space by the gravity of other planets.
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.”
Its statement added: “The giant outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) formed from an agglomeration of billions of comets and the left over bits and pieces from this formation process are the comets we see today.
“Likewise, today’s asteroids are the bits and pieces left over from the initial agglomeration of the inner planets that include Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.”
To come within 0.034 AU of our planet is close in space terms, but is roughly 3,160,497 miles from Earth in our terms.
It comes as a new space race between NASA, China and the UAE started with all competing to send probes to Mars “to prove life exists”.
United Arab Emirates look set to get things underway with its Hope mission, which has a launch date of July 16 this week.
China’s Tianwen-1 is then scheduled to go up between July 20 and July 25, with NASA’s Perseverance currently scheduled to launch somewhere between July 30 and August 15.
The missions kick off a hugely important month for the world’s fascination with the Red Planet and its exploration – and one of them could even discover the secrets that prove there is or has been life on Mars.