A rather imposing space rock is headed in Earth’s direction and will safely pass by our planet on May 30. Known as asteroid 2011 HP, the formidable object is thought to be up to 754 feet wide and will reach our corner of space tomorrow morning, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, recently announced.
Hurtling through space at more than 18,800 mph, or 24.5 times the speed of sound, asteroid 2011 HP is due to pop by for a quick visit in the early hours of Thursday morning. While a space rock of this size would certainly pose serious concerns should it wander too close for comfort, the JPL assures that tomorrow’s flyby will be a perfectly harmless one.
Although the hefty asteroid’s impressive size is understandably alarming – an object of these proportions would be 1.6 times larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Cairo, Egypt – the space rock will only buzz Earth from a few million miles away. Even so, the encounter still qualifies as a so-called “close Earth approach,” notes the JPL.
In addition, tomorrow’s visit will also be one for the records, as it will bring asteroid 2011 HP closer to planet Earth than it has ever come in all of its years of darting past our home world on its journey around the sun.
As its name suggests, asteroid 2011 HP was first discovered eight years ago – on April 13, 2011, to be precise. The space rock is an Apollo-type asteroid, which means that it is “Earth-crossing.” As NASA explains, Apollo asteroids not only approach planet Earth, but they can occasionally cross its orbit, even though they spend most of their time outside of Earth’s orbit.
Classified as a near-Earth object (NEO), asteroid 2011 HP is a frequent traveler through our neck of the cosmic woods and has paid Earth many visits in the past – with many more scheduled over the next 165 years. According to NASA’s Center For Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the space rock is estimated to measure anywhere between 328 feet and 754.5 feet in diameter.
“Near-Earth objects are 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,” details CNEOS.
“Note that a ‘close’ passage astronomically can be very far away in human terms: millions or even tens of millions of kilometers.”
The asteroid is expected to approach planet Earth at 6:48 a.m. ET tomorrow morning. During this particular close encounter, asteroid 2011 HP will fly past the planet’s surface at a distance of 2.92 million miles away.
To put that into perspective, that’s 12.26 times the distance to the moon. It is also the closest that asteroid 2011 HP has ever gotten to our planet, and the closest it will ever hope to get for the foreseeable future.
The last time that the wayfaring space rock performed a close flyby of Earth was in the year of its discovery. At the time, asteroid 2011 HP only managed to creep in within 3.12 million miles of Earth.
The object will return again eight years from now, on May 17, 2027. However, its next flyby will be considerably more distant, as it will only carry the asteroid within 10.6 million miles of the planet’s surface.