Earlier today, Earth was visited by a small but rather swift asteroid – one that made a close pass by the planet’s surface, coming within just a few times the distance to the moon. Dubbed asteroid 2019 MJ1, the space rock was only discovered one day before its close flyby of Earth and buzzed our planet from less than 950,000 miles away.
First spotted on June 27, the wayfaring space rock has been attentively monitored by NASA asteroid trackers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). After studying its orbital path over the course of 57 observations, the JPL announced that asteroid 2019 MJ1 would be swooping by for a close approach on Friday afternoon.
Traveling through the void of space at a cruising speed of over 21,400 mph, asteroid 2019 MJ1 safely shot past Earth at 3:20 p.m. ET today. Its close flyby of Earth brought the space rock within 948,600 miles of the planet’s surface – or exactly four times the distance between Earth and the moon.
Based on its orbit around the sun and its proximity to our planet, the space rock has been classified as a near-Earth object (NEO). As NASA explains, a NEO “is an asteroid or comet whose orbit brings it into or through a zone between approximately 91 million and 121 million miles from the sun, meaning that it can pass within about 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit.”
Given NASA’s broad definition, it seems that asteroid 2019 MJ1 has managed to get considerably closer to Earth than most of the NEOs that regularly traipse through our corner of the solar system. Judging by its orbital trajectory, the space rock has been labeled as an Amor-type asteroid. As The Inquisitr previously reported, this means that asteroid 2019 MJ1 follows an orbital path which allows it to approach Earth without actually crossing the planet’s orbit.
According to NASA’s Center For Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the object is thought to be anywhere between 32.8 feet and 75.4 feet wide. At the upper end of that size estimate, the space rock is just a little bigger than the famous Chelyabinsk meteor that penetrated Earth’s atmosphere in 2013, exploding in the sky over Russia and causing a substantial amount of damage.
The asteroid is not expected to return for the foreseeable future.
As far as NEO close encounters go, today has certainly proved to be an eventful day. A second report from the JPL noted that asteroid 2019 MJ1 was preceded by another, slightly larger space rock. Known as asteroid 2016 NN15, it performed a so-called “close Earth approach” a few hours before 2019 MJ1.
First discovered on July 6, 2016, asteroid 2016 NN15 has been on NASA’s radar, so to speak, for the past three years. Data from CNEOS shows that the object is estimated to measure between 39 feet and 85 feet in diameter. Just like 2019 MJ1, the space rock has been categorized as an Amor asteroid. However, unlike its freshly-discovered successor, it buzzed planet Earth from a lot farther away.
Hurtling through space at 18,700 mph, our celestial visitor came flying past Earth at 11:31 a.m. ET. During the moment of its close approach, the asteroid only managed to creep within 2.29 million miles of Earth. To put that into perspective, that’s 9.61 times the distance to the moon.
The last time that asteroid 2016 NN15 paid Earth a visit was on the day of its discovery. At the time, the space rock flew past Earth at a distance of 1.02 million miles from the planet’s surface. The asteroid will double back for another close encounter in three years’ time.