Earlier today, a rather imposing space rock hurtled past our planet in what NASA classifies as a “close Earth approach.” Known as asteroid 2019 KD3, the object is believed to be up to 460 feet wide and darted past Earth at a distance of a few million miles from the planet’s surface.
While that may seem like a vast distance by terrestrial standards, in cosmic terms it’s merely a stone’s throw away. In fact, data released by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) revealed that today’s flyby was the asteroid’s closest-ever approach to Earth.
First spotted in early April, asteroid 2019 KD3 has been classified as a near-Earth object (NEO). As NASA explains, NEOs are celestial objects, such as comets or asteroids, that orbit somewhere between approximately 91 million and 121 million miles from the sun. This means that, in their journey around the sun, NEOs can venture as far out as about 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit and as close to the planet’s surface as a few times the distance to the moon.
According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the hefty asteroid is thought to measure between 203.4 feet and 459.3 feet in diameter. This size estimate puts 2019 KD3 in the range of asteroid 2016 OF, which performed a close flyby of Earth last week, as reported by The Inquisitr at the time.
Today’s celestial visitor swooped by for its close approach to Earth in the early hours of the morning. Barreling through the void of space at a cruising speed of 17.780 mph, or a little more than 23 times the speed of sound, asteroid 2019 KD3 shot past us at 2:42 a.m. ET.
During its close encounter with our planet, the space rock managed to come within 3.69 million miles of Earth’s surface. To put that into perspective, that’s 15.47 times the distance to the moon.
As is the case with many NEOs, today’s close encounter with asteroid 2019 KD3 was not the first time that the object has traipsed through our neck of the cosmic woods – nor will it be the last. After studying its orbital trajectory, JPL scientists have compiled a list of the asteroid’s past and future flybys of Earth. Of all of these so-called “close Earth approaches,” today’s brush with asteroid 2019 KD3 was by far the closest that the space rock has ever gotten to our planet – and the closest it will ever hope to get.
In the past, the wayfaring asteroid has visited our planet on two other occasions, in August of 1977 and in July of 2005. During its previous flyby of Earth 14 years ago, the space rock buzzed our planet from a distance of 3.87 million miles. Before that, asteroid 2019 KD3 only managed to creep in within 24.39 million miles of the planet’s surface.
The asteroid will return for its next visit in 14 years’ time. On July 18, 2033, the space rock will shoot past Earth at a distance of 4.79 million miles. Its subsequent flybys will carry it even further away from planet Earth as asteroid 2019 KD3 continues to follow its orbital path around the sun.