Next week, planet Earth is in for a momentous encounter with a wayfaring asteroid that will bring the two objects closer together than they have been in more than a century. On July 17, a rather sizable space rock, dubbed asteroid 2019 NF1, will perform a close flyby of Earth, coming in within a few million miles of the planet’s surface.
First discovered at the beginning of the month – on July 2, to be exact – the celestial body has been attentively monitored by asteroid trackers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). After closely analyzing its orbital path around the sun, NASA scientists classified the space rock as a near-Earth object (NEO) and established that it is an Aten-type asteroid.
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.
Meanwhile, the Aten designation refers to the fact that this particular NEO has the potential of being “Earth crossing,” as it follows an orbit which allows it to cross that of Earth. In fact, Aten asteroids spend most of their time inside Earth’s orbit, notes NASA.
Data from NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) shows that asteroid 2019 NF1 boasts rather impressive proportions. The space rock is estimated to measure anywhere between 141 feet and 315 feet in diameter. While an asteroid of this size could undoubtably raise serious concern should it wander too close for comfort, this will not be the case for asteroid 2019 NF1. JPL assures that the object will harmlessly whiz past Earth on its way through the inner solar system as it circles the sun one more time in its vast trek through space.
The asteroid is expected to safely swoop by for its close encounter with Earth on Wednesday afternoon. Hurtling through the cosmos at dizzying speeds of close to 22,500 mph, the space rock will dart past Earth at 1:09 p.m. ET.
During its close flyby of Earth, the object will still maintain a safe distance from the surface, only approaching within 4.59 million miles of our planet. To put that into perspective, that’s 19.22 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
While the distance is certainly vast by terrestrial standards, 4.6 million miles is merely a stone’s throw away in cosmic terms. In fact, it’s been a long time since asteroid 2019 NF1 has come this close to Earth.
The last time that the asteroid managed to creep this close to our planet’s surface was 104 years ago. On July 17, 1915, the space rock performed a flyby of Earth that brought it within 2.84 million miles of our home world.
After next week’s close brush with Earth, the asteroid will return for another visit in 2030. However, it won’t come anywhere near as close, only buzzing Earth from a staggering 20.45 million miles away.