A rather sizeable asteroid is headed in Earth’s direction and will swing by for a close visit on Sunday. Traveling through the void of space at speeds of almost 17,900 mph, the object will arrive in Earth’s vicinity tomorrow morning for a close – but perfectly safe – encounter, asteroid trackers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced.
Known as asteroid 2019 LU, the space rock has been classified as a near-Earth object (NEO) – a celestial body, such as a comet or an asteroid, that orbits the sun on a trajectory which allows it to wander through Earth’s cosmic neighborhood.
Discovered only last month – on May 10, to be precise – the space rock has been attentively monitored by JPL scientists for the past 36 days. After studying its orbital path, astronomers were able to pinpoint the moment of its upcoming close brush with Earth, as well as the distance it’s expected to approach.
According to NASA’s Center For Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), asteroid 2019 LU is estimated to measure anywhere between 85 and 193.5 feet across. The space rock will harmlessly fly past our planet just in time for morning coffee, coming in for a close encounter at 7:48 a.m. ET.
While most NEOs that pass through our corner of the solar system only manage to buzz Earth from a few million miles away, that will not be the case for asteroid 2019 LU. During tomorrow’s close encounter with Earth, the space rock will creep within 985,800 miles of the planet’s surface. To put that into perspective, that’s 4.14 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
The last time that asteroid 2019 LU paid Earth a visit was eight years ago, on June 23, 2011. At the time, the space rock came a lot closer to the planet’s surface, skimming the Earth from 585,900 miles away – or 2.45 times the distance to the moon.
The asteroid will return in eight years’ time, making another so-called “close Earth approach” on May 10, 2027. However, its next trip through Earth’s cosmic neighborhood won’t bring it anywhere near as close as the previous ones. In fact, the next time it pops by for a brief visit, asteroid 2019 LU will shoot past Earth from a distance of 34 million miles away.
A few hours after tomorrow’s close flyby, another space rock will follow asteroid 2019 LU on a second close encounter with a NEO for the day. Dubbed asteroid 2019 LR, the space rock measures about as much as its predecessor – CNEOS estimates a maximum diameter of 187 feet – but is almost twice as fast.
Hurtling through space at more than 33,600 mph, the object will whizz by at 10:29 a.m. ET. While its journey around the sun will bring it in Earth’s vicinity, asteroid 2019 LU will actually be about 4.4 times more distant than our first celestial visitor of the day.
During tomorrow’s close flyby, the asteroid will come within 4.35 million miles of Earth, or 18.24 the lunar distance. Interestingly enough, this will be the object’s first known approach to planet Earth, revealed JPL data.
After that, asteroid 2019 LR will disappear for several decades, only to resurface 67 years from now, on October 27, 2086. On its next flyby of Earth, the space rock will dart past our home world at twice the distance, coming in within 8.53 million miles of the planet’s surface.