By Alex DeMetrick

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It’s the size of 20 city blocks and moving faster than a bullet.

Right now, it’s passing close to Earth.

“It’s going to come by within a million miles,” says Dr. James Garvin, of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

That’s a long way by our standards, but in the cosmic scheme of things “the rock” is a near-Earth encounter.

“It’s extremely close and that’s why these kind of encounters are so special because we train our observatories and tools to look at them,” Dr. Garvin says.

And according to him, the more we know about asteroids, the safer we might someday be.

Four years ago, a smaller one came extremely close to the Earth, just over 17,000 miles away.

And in 2012, one that was just 60 feet across streaked into Russia, exploding in an air burst.

If “the rock” were to hit Earth, it would be “something on the order of 5,000 to 10,000 hydrogen bombs and that’s a lot of energy,” Garvin says.

Studying asteroids is a way of getting to know your enemy. They also hold secrets to our past.

“They’re really significant opportunities to get to know our solar system.”

NASA has plans to do a lot more than just look at asteroids.

Next year, the Osiris Rex spacecraft will rendezvous with an asteroid, and collect a pristine sample to bring back to Earth.

“They may have seeded our planet with some of the good stuff that led to the formation of life, oceans… because they’re the fossil records of what our solar system was like a long time ago.”

The asteroid will pass closest to Earth at 7 p.m. eastern time tonight.

For people with big enough backyard telescopes and a clear sky, it should be visible.

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