Asteroid 2002 NN4 (163348) is expected to whiz past Earth on Saturday, July 6, in what NASA has described as a near-Earth object (NEO) and a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA). The asteroid is between 250m and 570m, making it significantly bigger than the Shard, which stands at 310 metres. At its closest approach, asteroid 2002 NN4 will be just 0.034 astronomical units (AU) from Earth.

One AU (149,598,000 km) is the distance between the Earth and the Sun, so come Saturday, the asteroid will be 5,086,327 kilometres from our planet.

NASA has described the asteroid as an NEO, which allows the space agency to study the history of our solar system.

NASA set 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.

“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.”

NASA also classed it as a PHA, stating: 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.”

However, this asteroid poses no threat to Earth.

Ian O’Neill of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said: “In short, 2002 NN4 is a very well-known asteroid with a known orbit that will pass Earth at a (very) safe distance.”

While the chances of a major asteroid hitting Earth are small – NASA believes there is a one in 300,000 chance every year that a space rock which could cause regional damage will hit – the devastating prospect is not impossible.

However, there are some plans on the go which could help Earth against potential asteroid strikes.

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NASA is currently studying Asteroid Bennu, where its OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft arrived in 2018.

Part of the reason NASA is sending the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft there is to gather more information about the space rock which is 1,640ft (500m) in length.

NASA fears the asteroid, which has the potential to wipe out a country on Earth, could hit our planet within the next 120 years, with the next close flyby in 2135.

The mission will give vital information on how to deflect asteroids from their collision course with Earth, but NASA reiterates while there is a small chance Earth could be impacted, “over millions of years, of all of the planets, Bennu is most likely to hit Venus”.

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