Next Sunday, a very imposing space rock will swing by to pay Earth a close visit. Dubbed asteroid 2019 JB1, the formidable space rock is large enough to dwarf both the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Statue of Liberty.
First discovered at the beginning of the month, the 2019 JB1 has been classified as a near-Earth object (NEO). These objects are celestial bodies, such as asteroids or comets, "that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth's neighborhood," explains NASA's Center For Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).
While many NEOs are known to pass through our corner of space on a regular basis, frequently flying past Earth in their journey around the sun, this is not the case for asteroid 2019 JB1. After studying its trajectory, speed, and proximity to our planet, asteroid trackers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, have determined that the wandering space rock will perform only one flyby of Earth. After that, asteroid 2019 JB1 will vanish into the cosmos without returning for the foreseeable future.
According to CNEOS, the asteroid is estimated to measure anywhere between 558 feet and 1,280 feet in diameter. At the upper end of NASA's size estimate, the space rock would be nearly three times as large as the Great Pyramid of Giza and a little over four times taller than the Statue of Liberty.
Even at the lower end of that size estimate, asteroid 2019 JB1 would still be considered pretty hefty. At 558 feet wide, the space rock would still be bigger than both of those iconic landmarks.
While the asteroid's impressive scale can certainly be unnerving, there is no cause for alarm. Its close encounter with Earth will be a perfectly safe one, as it will only bring it within a few million miles of the planet's surface, the JPL announced earlier today.
The wayfaring asteroid is expected to harmlessly fly past planet Earth late at night on May 19. Hurtling through space at incredible speeds of more than 58,000 mph, asteroid 2019 JB1 will make its closest approach to Earth at 11:21 p.m. ET.
During its upcoming close flyby, the space rock will buzz Earth from a distance of 4 million miles away. This means that, at the moment of its closest approach, the asteroid will zoom past our planet's surface at a little less than 17 times the distance to the moon.
While that may sound like a vast distance by terrestrial standards, 4 million miles is a stone's throw away in cosmic terms.
"Note that a 'close' passage astronomically can be very far away in human terms: millions or even tens of millions of kilometers," CNEOS points out.