A pair of asteroids swooped past our planet today on what astronomers refer to as a “close Earth approach.” Classified as near-Earth objects (NEOs), the space rocks each performed a safe flyby of our planet, flying past Earth’s surface at several times the distance to the moon.
According to NASA’s Center For Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the asteroids are both under 200 feet in diameter. Dubbed 2003 LH and 2019 JH8, the space rocks ventured through our corner of space at different times of the day and only managed to creep in within a few million miles of our home world.
As The Inquisitr previously reported, NEOs are celestial objects, such as comets and asteroids, whose orbit around the sun brings them close to our planet, sometimes allowing them to approach Earth and even cross its orbit.
“Note that a ‘close’ passage astronomically can be very far away in human terms: millions or even tens of millions of kilometers,” explains CNEOS.
The first one to zip through Earth’s cosmic neighborhood was asteroid 2003 LH. As its name suggests, the space rock was first discovered in 2003 and has been kept under close watch by specialists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) ever since.
This particular object is an Aten-type asteroid. This means that it is “Earth crossing,” following an orbit that allows it to cross that of Earth. In fact, Aten asteroids spend most of their time inside Earth’s orbit, notes NASA.
Estimated to be between 78.7 feet and 177 feet across, asteroid 2003 LH hurtled past Earth in the early hours of the morning, coming in for its close approach at 7:19 a.m. ET. Traveling at a cruising speed of nearly 16,441 mph – or about 21.4 times the speed of sound – the space rock passed within 3.71 million miles of Earth.
To put that into perspective, that’s 15.56 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.
Just like many other NEOs, asteroid 2003 LH is a frequent traveler through our corner of space. The last time that the wayfaring space rock paid Earth a visit was in 2018. However, during its previous flyby of our planet, the asteroid buzzed Earth from much farther away, only managing to creep in within 36.51 million miles of the planet’s surface.
The space rock will double back for another visit next year. Data released by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) shows that the object will perform two flybys of Earth in 2020, one in late January and the other in mid-November. Nevertheless, none of its upcoming visits will bring it as close to Earth as today’s close encounter.
A few short hours after the passage of asteroid 2003 LH, Earth was buzzed by asteroid 2019 JH8. Unlike its predecessor, the space rock was only recently discovered – being first spotted just this month, on May 8.
As the JPL points out, 2019 JH8 is an Amor-type asteroid. Unlike Aten asteroids, Amor asteroids follow orbits that allow them to approach Earth without actually crossing the planet’s orbit, as recently covered by The Inquisitr.
Much smaller than 2003 LH, asteroid 2019 JH8 actually managed to skim the Earth from a lot closer. The CNEOS size estimate indicates that the space rock is thought to be between 42.6 feet and 98.4 feet wide. Cruising through space at a little over 15,400 mph, the asteroid made its closest approach to Earth at 11:39 a.m. ET, when it passed within 2.16 million miles of the planet’s surface.
This means that, during today’s close encounter with Earth, asteroid 2019 JH8 was nine times more distant than the moon.
The space rock is not expected to return for the foreseeable future.