Earlier today, a newly-discovered asteroid skimmed past our planet in what was revealed as its closest-ever approach to Earth. Known as asteroid 2019 ES, the space rock came within 2.1 million miles of Earth, or nearly nine times the distance between our planet and the moon.
According to asteroid trackers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, asteroid 2019 ES buzzed Earth in the early hours of the morning, shooting past our planet at 2:44 a.m. EST.
At the moment of its close approach, the space rock hit break-neck speeds of 15,680 mph. This means that, during its flyby of Earth, the asteroid was cruising through space at more than 20 times the speed of sound.
While 2.1 million miles may sound like a vast distance by terrestrial standards, in cosmic terms it’s actually at a stone’s throw away. This qualifies 2019 ES as a near-Earth asteroid — and today’s flyby as a close asteroid encounter.
Asteroid 2019 ES was discovered a mere two weeks ago. The space rock was first spotted by astronomers on March 4 and was closely monitored by asteroid trackers for a period of five days. After taking a thorough look at its orbit and trajectory, JPL specialists announced that asteroid 2019 ES would perform as so-called “close Earth approach” on March 16.
— US Tribune News (@USTribuneNews) March 16, 2019
The asteroid is not a particularly large one and was estimated to measure only between 78.7 feet and 173.8 feet in diameter. Given its size range, asteroid 2019 ES pales in comparison to the 390-foot-wide space rock due to pop by for a close visit on Monday, as previously reported by The Inquisitr.
However, despite being relatively meager, the space rock was large enough to merit an investigation by JPL.
“At the higher end of the size estimate, the asteroid is about 6.3 times as long as a London double-decker bus,” notes the British media outlet The Express.
“Even if the asteroid proves to be smaller, it is still bigger than 12 Twin-Size beds lined up in a row.”
The JPL data revealed that asteroid 2019 ES only approached within 0.0231 astronomical units (AU) of Earth. Given that one AU represents the average distance between Earth and the sun and is equivalent to 93 million miles, the space rock missed our planet by 2.14 million miles.
That’s 8.99 times the distance between Earth and the moon, also known as lunar distance (LD).
In the past, the asteroid has made its way through our corner of the solar system on two other occasions. The first time was half a century ago, in 1970, when it only managed to slip in within 8.8 million miles of Earth (0.0959 AU, 37.3 LD).
Its following visit came 44 years later, in 2014. At the time, asteroid 2019 ES approached Earth from a lot farther away, coming in within 43.4 million miles from our planet (0.4676 AU, 182.1 LD). This means that today’s flyby was the closest one yet.
The space rock is not expected to swing by Earth any time soon. In 2028, the asteroid will pay a close visit to our planetary neighbor, Mars, passing within 3.8 million miles of the red planet.