Our planet was buzzed by a fast-moving asteroid earlier today. The space rock is dubbed 2016 FU12 and is no stranger to our corner of the solar system. In fact, the asteroid has been regularly swinging by Earth for a close visit once a year ever since 1902.
According to asteroid trackers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, asteroid 2016 FU12 zoomed past our planet this morning on what astronomers call an “Earth close approach.” The space rock reached its closest possible distance to Earth at around 11:09 a.m. EST, coming within 3.67 million miles from our home world.
That’s a little over 15 times the distance from Earth to the moon.
During its close approach to our planet, asteroid 2016 FU12 was hurtling through space at a breakneck speed of nearly 11,700 mph. This means that during its close flyby of Earth the space rock was cruising at 15 times the speed of sound.
While FU 12 is not necessarily a big asteroid, the space rock does pack a bit of muscle, so to speak. JPL specialists estimate it to measure between 36 feet and 82 feet across.
“This means the imposing space rock could be as big as 12 Queen-Size beds stacked in a row or six Volkswagen Beetle cars lined up,” notes The Express.
“Compared to a London double-decker bus, the asteroid is almost three times as long. Even at 36 feet, the asteroid is pretty impressive and measures about six times the height of an average refrigerator or Twin-Size bed.”
Although the British media outlet labeled FU12 as a “giant” asteroid, the space rock can’t hold a candle to the massive asteroid that darted past Earth last week. As The Inquisitr reported at the time, our planet had a close encounter with the 1,500-foot-wide VF22 asteroid on February 20.
While last week’s celestial visitor was vastly larger than FU12, the smaller asteroid actually managed to creep in a little closer to Earth. Since VF 22 buzzed our planet from a distance of 4.5 million miles away, FU12 was, in fact, 1 million miles closer to Earth during today’s encounter.
NASA asteroid tracker: GIANT 11,700mph asteroid will hurtle close to Earth TODAY https://t.co/WzOqWhFyGc AN ASTEROID barreling through the void of space at nearly 11700mph will come very close to Earth this afternoon, NASA's asteroid trackers have… https://t.co/C2bdMCPbLx pic.twitter.com/oEKCG15NWh— Hurshal (@Hurshal) February 27, 2019
The JPL data revealed that asteroid FU12 approached Earth from a “nominal distance” of 0.0395 astronomical units (AU). Since one AU represents the average distance between our planet and the sun and is equivalent to roughly 93 million miles, this means that the space rock missed Earth by more than 3.67 million miles.
Even though this may seem like a vast distance in terrestrial terms, today’s flyby was actually a close brush by cosmic standards. The asteroid’s close approach brought it within 15.38 times the lunar distance (LD) — a stone’s throw away in cosmic terms.
However, today’s visit was not the closest encounter with asteroid 2016 FU12. As its name suggests it, the space rock was first spotted almost three years ago, on March 28, 2016. After closely observing its trajectory and speed, asteroid trackers calculated its orbit going back in time to 1902.
NASA specialists established that the space rock has a period of 1.01 years, which means that it circles the sun on a yearly basis. On its path around our star, the asteroid inevitably swings by Earth — and has been doing so every year for the past century.
Its closest approach to Earth came exactly one year ago. On February 26 of 2018, asteroid FU12 swooped in at a distance of 3.13 million miles (0.0337 AU, 13.12 LD) from our planet.
The space rock will continue to visit our planet every year until 2027, after which it will disappear for about eight decades. The asteroid will resurface in 2106 and resume its yearly flybys for another 10 years. After that, it will return in 2132 and continue to buzz the Earth every year for another decade.