A massive asteroid estimated to be so large that it could potentially dwarf the Great Pyramid of Giza has just made a close flyby of Earth. The formidable space rock, known as asteroid 2019 EN, swung past our planet on Tuesday evening – coming in within 2.3 million miles of Earth.
According to asteroid trackers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, the space rock buzzed planet Earth in the early hours of Wednesday morning. As it hurtled through space in its orbit around the sun, the asteroid darted past Earth at 1:27 a.m. UTC (9:27 p.m. on Tuesday EST) – hitting break-neck speeds of a little over 34,000 mph during the moment of its close approach.
Today’s close encounter was not Earth’s first brush with asteroid 2019 EN – nor will it be the last. The space rock is a recurrent visitor to our part of the solar system and has performed a total of 10 flybys of our planet over the past century. However, today’s approach was the closest that asteroid 2019 EN has ever gotten to Earth – and the closest that it’s going to get for the foreseeable future.
As its name suggests it, the asteroid was only discovered this year — being spotted for the first time on January 10. Due to its trajectory and proximity to our planet, the space rock was classified as a near-Earth object (NEO). As NASA explains, NEOs are celestial bodies, such as comets and asteroids, “that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighborhood.”
“As they orbit the sun, NEOs can occasionally approach close to Earth. Note that a ‘close’ passage astronomically can be very far away in human terms: millions or even tens of millions of kilometers.”
In this particular case, asteroid 2019 EN managed to slip in within 0.0248 astronomical units (AU) of Earth. Given that one AU represents the average distance between our planet and the sun and it’s equivalent to roughly 93 million miles, this means that the space rock missed Earth by 2.3 million miles.
That’s 9.66 times the distance between Earth and the moon, also known as the lunar distance (LD).
Data from NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) shows that asteroid 2019 EN is estimated to measure anywhere between 492 feet and 1,115.5 feet across.
“In other words, the asteroid could be as wide as 40 London double-decker buses lined up in a row,” states the British media outlet The Express, noting that at the smaller end of NASA’s size estimate the space rock “might only be about as big as 37 Volkswagen Beetle cars.”
“But whatever the case is, NASA’s size estimates show the space rock is bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Statue of Liberty, and Big Ben’s clock tower in London.”
The last time that asteroid 2019 EN visited our corner of space was 13 years ago, on August 4, 2006. At the time, the space rock only managed to creep in within 22.2 million miles of Earth (0.2394 AU, 93.2 LD).
The asteroid will return for another visit 16 years from now, after buzzing Jupiter in the year 2024. A little over a decade after its flyby of the gas giant, asteroid 2019 EN will perform its next close approach to Earth, coming within 21.03 million miles of our planet on June 6, 2035. After that, the space rock will pass Earth again on February 29, 2048, and on August 9, 2051.