A large space rock safely passed by planet Earth earlier today, NASA asteroid trackers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, have announced. Dubbed asteroid 2019 LA, the object harmlessly flew past Earth in the late hours of the afternoon, coming in within a few million miles of the planet’s surface.
While the distance certainly seems vast by terrestrial standards, today’s flyby has been deemed as a so-called “close Earth approach” by the JPL. Moreover, the wayfaring space rock has been classified as a near-Earth object (NEO).
As NASA’s Center For Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) explains, NEOs are celestial bodies, such as comets or asteroids, that circle the sun in an orbit which allows 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.”
As its name suggests, asteroid 2019 LA was discovered just this year. First spotted less than two weeks ago, on May 26, the space rock has been kept under close observation for a period of 10 days. After scoping out its size, orbital path, and proximity to Earth, JPL scientists determined that asteroid 2019 LA doesn’t pose any impact threat to our planet and announced it will be making a close flyby on June 7.
According to CNEOS, the space rock is estimated to measure anywhere between 167.3 feet and 360 feet in diameter.
“An object this big would tower over the Statue of Liberty in New York and match 75 Queen-Size beds in a row,” notes the British media outlet, The Express.
“Even towards the lower end of NASA’s estimate, the rock would be big enough to cause widespread damage.”
Luckily, asteroid 2019 LA gave Earth and its inhabitants no cause for concern, as it approached the planet from a perfectly safe distance. Although some NEOs do manage to creep in very close to the planet’s surface, sometimes even passing between Earth and the moon, this was not the case for asteroid 2019 LA.
Hurtling through space at breakneck speeds of nearly 50,000 mph, the asteroid made its closest approach to the planet at 4:40 p.m. ET, when it buzzed Earth from 3.3 million miles away. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly 14 times the distance to the moon.
While the 360-foot asteroid may have come and gone, another space rock is about to pay Earth a close visit later today. Known as asteroid 2019 KZ3, this particular NEO is considerably smaller and slower, but it will pass a lot closer to the planet’s surface.
Discovered just a day before 2019 LA, asteroid 2019 KZ3 is estimated to be between 128 feet and 282 feet wide. Cruising through space at 22,370 mph, the second celestial visitor for today will arrive in Earth’s vicinity later this evening, making a close pass-by the planet at 5:45 p.m. ET.
As the JPL points out, asteroid 2019 KZ3 will approach Earth from much closer than its predecessor. During its close encounter with Earth, the asteroid will fly within 1.48 million miles of the planet’s surface. That’s 5.64 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
Neither space rock is expected to return for the foreseeable future.