Asteroid the size of a giraffe to skim past Earth this week

Designated 2022 KP3, this small space rock is estimated by NASA to be at minimum, 5.4 meters wide and will pass by at the cosmically-close distance of around 1.3 million kilometers.

 An asteroid is seen near Earth in this artistic illustration. (photo credit: PIXABAY)
An asteroid is seen near Earth in this artistic illustration.
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

A small asteroid around the size of an average male giraffe is set to pass by the Earth in a very close flyby later this week, according to NASA's asteroid tracker.

Designated 2022 KP3, this small space rock is estimated by NASA to be at minimum, 5.4 meters wide. For comparison, the average adult male giraffe grows to a height of around 5-6 meters.

According to the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), asteroid 2022 KP3 is set to pass by the Earth on Thursday, June 2, at a speed of around 7.2 kilometers per second and at a distance of around 1.3 million kilometers away from the planet. 

At first glance, that might not seem so bad. After all, the Moon orbits the Earth at a distance of around 384,000 kilometers, so it's much farther – more than three times as much.

But on a cosmic scale, it's a much closer call than it might first appear.

 CURRENTLY, 1,113,527 asteroids are known to exist in the solar system. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) CURRENTLY, 1,113,527 asteroids are known to exist in the solar system. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In addition, 2022 KP3 is classified as an Apollo-class asteroid. This means its orbit around the Sun overlaps with Earth's own orbit as well.

Will the asteroid hit us?

Fortunately, it seems incredibly unlikely that 2022 KP3 will hit the Earth. In fact, even if this asteroid did impact the planet, the damage would be minimal.

For comparison, the most recent asteroid to hit the Earth was 2022 EB5, which hit the Earth in March. 

That asteroid was just three meters wide, just about half the size.

And it largely burnt up in the atmosphere, so there wasn't any damage.

Small asteroids can still cause damage, though. That was the case with a previous asteroid impact in 2013, when a small asteroid around 17-20 meters wide impacted, exploding over Chelyabinsk, Russia. While the impact itself wasn't severe, the shockwave caused thousands of windows to shatter and many people were injured and in need of medical attention from the shattered glass.

It is for this reason that scientists worldwide have worked to study the many asteroids in space and catalog them, calculating their trajectories and anticipating any possible impact events.

And there are many of them. Asteroids make up one of the most numerous types of objects in the solar system. Over 1,113,000 of them are currently known to exist in the solar system, according to NASA, but those are just the ones definitively identified, with experts always finding more.

It is for this reason that scientists are working on finding means of defending against a possible asteroid impact.

This includes NASA's groundbreaking Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission that is set to test the possibility of asteroid deflection.