A 260-Foot Asteroid Just Zoomed Past Earth On Its Closest Approach In 100 Years

The space rock will be back for another visit next year.

Near-Earth asteroid approaching planet Earth.
9866112 / Pixabay

The space rock will be back for another visit next year.

Earlier today, Earth was buzzed by a fairly large asteroid, cruising through space at more than 33,000 mph, The Express is reporting.

The near-Earth asteroid is known as 2012 DF31. On Saturday morning, the space rock made its closest approach in more than 100 years, coming within 2.2 million miles of our planet.

According to asteroid trackers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, the space rock was first spotted seven years ago — on February 16, 2012, to be precise. The asteroid is a regular visitor to this corner of the solar system and has performed no less than 60 close flybys of Earth over the past century.

Data released by the JPL earlier this week revealed the complete list of its close approaches to Earth, dating back to 1900. Of all its previous flybys, today’s encounter was the closest that asteroid 2012 DF31 has ever gotten to our planet.

The space rock skimmed past Earth right in time for the morning coffee, shooting by at 7:44 a.m. ET. During its close approach, the asteroid was hurtling through space at breakneck speeds of 33,700 mph — or a little over 44 times the speed of sound.

After tracking the asteroid for the past seven years, JPL specialists gleaned a lot of insightful data on its size, orbit, velocity, and proximity to Earth. The space rock is estimated to measure anywhere between 114.8 feet and 255.9 feet across.

“At 255.9 feet in diameter, the space rock is about 9.5 times the length of a London double-decker bus or 40 times as long as a Queen-Size bed,” notes The Express.

“Even at the lower end of NASA’s scale, the asteroid could still be about 8.5 times as long as a Volkswagen Beetle car,” remarks the media outlet.

During today’s close visit, the asteroid managed to creep in at a distance of 0.0238 astronomical units (AU), where one AU represents the average distance between Earth and the sun. Given that one AU is equivalent to roughly 93 million miles, this means that asteroid 2012 DF31 missed Earth by 2.2 million miles.

That’s about 9.27 times the distance between Earth and the moon, also known as lunar distance (LD).

3D illustration of a near-Earth asteroid approaching planet Earth.
3D illustration of a near-Earth asteroid approaching planet Earth. 470906 / Pixabay

Even though 2.2 million miles may sound like a long way in terrestrial terms, by cosmic standards, today’s visit was a very close brush. By comparison, the last time the asteroid swung by for a visit, it only managed to approach within 37.5 million miles (0.4032 AU, 157 LD) of Earth.

The previous close encounter with asteroid 2012 DF31 occurred on November 1, 2014. The space rock will double back for another flyby next year, when it’s expected to zoom past the planet on July 17. On its next approach, the asteroid will buzz Earth from a distance of 39.2 million miles (0.4224 AU, 164.5 LD).

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Over the next two centuries, asteroid 2012 DF31 will perform another 72 close flybys of Earth between now and the year 2192. However, the space rock won’t get as close to the planet as it did this weekend.

Of all its future close encounters with Earth, the closest approach was pinned down to October 15, 2056. At that time, JPL calculated that the space rock will come within 2.6 million miles (0.0282 AU, 10.9 LD) of Earth — slightly farther away than it did today.

Given its distance to Earth, the asteroid was classified as a near-Earth object (NEO). As The Inquisitr previously reported, NEOs are asteroids and comets that orbit within 1.3 AU from the sun.