US Capitol-sized asteroid set to pass by Earth Sunday in close flyby

Designated 2022 GU6, this asteroid's flyby will be very close on a cosmic scale, passing by the Earth at a distance of around 1.2 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)

An asteroid roughly the size of the US Capitol building is set to pass by the Earth Sunday in a very close flyby on a cosmic scale, according to NASA's asteroid tracker.

Designated 2022 GU6, this asteroid was calculated by the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to have a mean diameter of 86.4 meters – just a bit smaller than the 88-meter-high US Capitol.

Will the asteroid hit us?

Almost definitely not, but the flyby will be very close on a cosmic scale, passing by the Earth at a distance of around 1.2 million kilometers. More than three times as far as the Moon, which orbits the Earth at a distance of approximately 384,000 km, but still close on a cosmic scale.

It is not deemed potentially hazardous. While an impact of an asteroid of this size could still cause significant damage, it would be far from a potential apocalypse.

 An asteroid is seen heading towards the planet in this artistic rendition. (credit: PIXABAY) An asteroid is seen heading towards the planet in this artistic rendition. (credit: PIXABAY)

Regardless, NASA has calculated that the Earth is free of the risk of a catastrophic asteroid impact for the next century. Minor impacts can still happen, however. In fact, one did back in March when asteroid 2022 EB5 impacted the planet.

In other words, Earth is safe from the worst.

Small asteroids can still cause damage, though. That was the case with a previous asteroid impact in 2013, when a small one 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, where more than 1,113,000 of them are known to exist, 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.