Planet Earth is in for a very close encounter with an asteroid later today.
In the late hours of Monday night, a tiny space rock is due to pass extremely close to Earth’s surface, asteroid trackers as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, announced yesterday.
Known as asteroid 2019 KT, the space rock was only discovered a mere two days ago and is currently on course for what astronomers call a “close Earth approach.” When it finally reaches our corner of space in a few hours, the asteroid will skim Earth from a very close distance, passing between our planet and the moon.
Data from NASA’s Center For Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) shows that asteroid 2019 KT is of modest proportions. According to a size estimate released by CNEOS, the space rock only measures between 42.65 feet and 95.14 feet in diameter. That makes it somewhat comparable in size to the famous Chelyabinsk meteor – the 65.5-foot space rock that exploded over the skies of Russia in the morning of February 15, 2013, damaging more than 7,200 buildings and injuring nearly 1,500 people.
While that particular space rock breached Earth’s atmosphere as it passed dangerously close to our planet, that won’t be the case for asteroid 2019 KT. Our celestial visitor will, indeed, approach a lot closer than any other asteroid has done in the past few months. However, today’s flyby will be a perfectly safe one, as the space rock will harmlessly shoot past our planet, creeping in just a little closer than the moon.
Asteroid 2019 KT is expected to pop by for its very close visit a few minutes before midnight. Hurtling through space at nearly 26,000 mph, the celestial object will dart past Earth at 11:48 p.m. ET. To put that into perspective, during its close brush with planet Earth, the asteroid will be traveling at cruising speeds of nearly 34 times the speed of sound.
During the moment of its closest approach, asteroid 2019 KT will buzz planet Earth from a distance of 195,300 miles away. By comparison, the average distance from Earth to the moon is of about 238,900 miles. This means that today’s close encounter will bring the space rock within 0.85 times the distance to the moon.
Today’s flyby will not only be a very close one, but also the first time that asteroid 2019 KT has visited Earth in more than half a century. The last time that the space rock passed throughout the neck of the cosmic woods was on April 24, 1965. At the time, the tiny asteroid buzzed Earth from a much greater distance, only managing to approach within 29.10 million miles of the planet’s surface.
The asteroid is not expected to return any time soon.