A rather imposing asteroid, one thought to be up to 330-feet-wide, has recently passed through our neck of the cosmic woods, asteroid trackers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced. Known as asteroid 2019 NW5, the space rock hurtled past Earth at breakneck speeds of nearly 35,000 mph, coming in for what astronomers call a "close Earth approach."
First spotted only last week, asteroid 2019 NW5 swooped in for its close flyby of Earth just two days after its discovery. Data from JPL revealed that the space rock performed its close approach to Earth on Thursday night.
While this was not the first time that the asteroid has traipsed through our corner of space, this recent close encounter with 2019 NW5 was certainly one for the books. According to the JPL, the object's latest visit through our celestial neighborhood brought it closer to planet Earth than it has been in decades.
Originally picked up by NASA asteroid trackers on July 9, the wayfaring space rock was 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 our star, NEOs can venture as far 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.
After studying its orbital path, JPL scientists determined that 2019 NW5 is an Apollo-type asteroid. This means that the space rock can not only approach our planet in its journey around the sun, but it can also occasionally cross Earth's orbit, NASA points out.
A close observation of the space rock's trajectory also enabled NASA scientists to get an estimate on its dimensions. According to NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the asteroid is believed to measure at least 154 feet in diameter and be up to 328 feet across.
The hefty space rock came barreling toward us for its close encounter with Earth late at night on July 11. Flying through the void of space at more than 34,800 mph, asteroid 2019 NW5 came in for its close approach at 9:21 p.m. ET.
While some NEOs manage to creep in quite close to Earth, sometimes even passing between our planet and the moon, this was not the case for asteroid 2019 NW5. During its close flyby of Earth, the space rock only managed to come within 4.34 million miles of the planet's surface. To put that into perspective, that's 18.20 times the distance to the moon.
Interestingly enough, the distance – as vast as it may seem by terrestrial standards – was actually the closest that asteroid 2019 NW5 has gotten to our planet in 81 years. The last time that the space rock has visited Earth was on December 31, 1938, when it buzzed our planet from 4.55 million miles away.
The asteroid is due for a return trip in another 81 years' time. On December 30, 2100, the object will pass by us at a distance of 6.61 million miles of Earth's surface.