Three asteroids are headed toward Earth today for a series of close – but perfectly safe – encounters with our home world. Also known as “close-Earth approaches,” these events will bring one of the celestial wayfarers closer to our planet than the moon. However, there is no cause for concern, as the tiny space rock poses no threat to Earth and its inhabitants and will safely pass by our planet on its way around the sun – as will its two larger and significantly more distant companions.
According to data released by NASA’s Center For Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), Earth is in for a trio of asteroid flybys today. Our celestial visitors vary in sizes and will buzz Earth from very different distances, covering a wide spectrum of close asteroid approaches. As CNEOS explains, the space rocks are classified as near-Earth objects, a term which refers to 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.”
“Note that a ‘close’ passage astronomically can be very far away in human terms: millions or even tens of millions of kilometers.”
The first asteroid to wander through our neck of the cosmic woods today is a space rock dubbed 2019 GC6. With an estimated diameter ranging between 42.6 feet and 98.4 feet, asteroid 2019 GC6 is the smallest of the bunch. However, this won’t stop the tiny space rock from creeping in a lot closer to Earth than its larger companions.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, asteroid 2019 GC6 will swoop past our planet in what will be the closest asteroid encounter of the day, passing between Earth and the moon at more than 12,500 mph. That’s more than 16.2 times the speed of sound.
2019 GC6, an #asteroid 9-30 meters will pass half the Moon's distance below the Earth. It's slow speed of 5.5 km/s will allow Earth's gravity to bend its trajectory.https://t.co/47LRLuP5gP pic.twitter.com/OVyxpPXTAd
— Tony Dunn (@tony873004) April 17, 2019
As its name suggests, asteroid 2019 GC6 was only discovered this year, being spotted for the first time on March 31. After observing the space rock for a period of 17 days, specialists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, were able to gauge its size, speed, trajectory, and proximity to Earth. In an update issued yesterday, the JPL announced that the asteroid will swing by for a pre-dawn close approach, dropping by at around 2:41 a.m. ET.
Hurtling through space at dizzying speeds, asteroid 2019 GC6 will buzz Earth from a distance of 130,200 miles of the planet’s surface, or a little more than half the distance to the moon. That’s the closest that asteroid 2019 GC6 has ever gotten to Earth – and will ever get for the foreseeable future.
The space rock will return for another close visit later this year, performing another flyby of Earth on November 21. On its upcoming visit, asteroid 2019 GC6 will only approach within 25.5 million miles of our planet. After that, the tiny asteroid will wander through our corner of space once again in the year 2026.
Several hours after the encounter with the tiny space rock, Earth will be buzzed by another celestial visitor in the form of asteroid 2012 XO134. Unlike its predecessor, this asteroid was discovered years ago and boasts a vast track record of close-Earth approaches.
Estimated to measure between 137.7 feet and 308.3 feet across, this asteroid is significantly larger – and faster, judging by a recent data release from the JPL. According to NASA asteroid trackers, the space rock will skim past Earth at 12:10 p.m. ET, barreling past our planet at nearly 24,500 mph.
Although bigger and swifter than 2019 GC6, asteroid 2012 XO134 will buzz Earth from much farther away. In fact, among the three asteroid flybys announced for today, this particular one will be the most distant. The space rock will only come within 3.5 million miles of Earth, or 14.74 times the distance to the moon.
Asteroid 2012 XO134 will double back for another close encounter on April 10, 2020 and then again on April 1, 2021. After that, it will disappear for more than a decade and a half, resurfacing at the end of the year 2037.
The final asteroid flyby of the day will get planet Earth reacquainted with another one of its frequent celestial visitors, namely asteroid 2019 FN2. According to the JPL, the space rock has been coming around our corner of the solar system for the past four decades and will continue to regularly buzz Earth for at least another 41 years. During today’s close flyby of Earth, the space rock will pass within less of 1 million miles of the planet’s surface – its closest-ever approach so far.
Estimated to be between 160.7 feet and 360.8 feet wide, asteroid 2019 FN2 is the largest of the group. The asteroid will dart past Earth at 1:38 p.m. ET, coming in within 957,900 miles of Earth. This means that, during its closest approach to our planet, the space rock will be a little over four times more distant than the moon.
The last time that asteroid 2019 FN2 visited Earth was three years ago, on April 21, 2016. The space rock will return on March 30, 2022, and then again on March 20, 2025, after popping by Venus in December of 2024. However, the asteroid won’t get nowhere nearly as close to Earth as it will today. In fact, the only time that asteroid 2019 FN2 will manage to skim Earth from a much closer distance will be in the year 2060, when it will buzz our planet from 809,100 miles away.