On any given year, planet Earth is visited by countless asteroids – some larger, some smaller – that traipse through our corner of the solar system as they journey around the sun. While many of these space rocks, classified as near-Earth objects (NEOs), become frequent travelers through our cosmic neighborhood and boast numerous flybys of our planet at the moment of their discovery, others are spotted by asteroid trackers shortly before their first pass through our neck of the cosmic woods.
Such was the case of asteroid 2019 NJ2 – a rather small space rock, believed to be no bigger than 206 feet across – which passed through Earth’s doorstep earlier today. According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the object performed a so-called “close Earth approach” this afternoon, missing the planet by a few million miles.
Originally discovered in late June, asteroid 2019 NJ2 has been categorized as a NEO, specifically an Apollo-type asteroid, after JPL scientists took a hard look at the object’s orbital path and proximity to Earth.
To qualify for the NEO designation, a celestial object – be it a comet or an asteroid – needs to orbit somewhere between approximately 91 million and 121 million miles from the sun, explains NASA. This means that in their journey around the sun, 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.
At the same time, the asteroid’s Apollo classification suggests that the object can not only approach our planet in its journey around the sun, but it can also occasionally cross Earth’s orbit, NASA points out.
As far as NEOs go, today’s celestial visitor was somewhat on the smaller side. Data from Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) shows that asteroid 2019 NJ2 is thought to measure at least 91.8 feet in diameter and up to 206 feet wide. Judging by this size estimate, the space rock is about 1.5 times smaller than the 315-foot asteroid that shot past Earth on Wednesday on its closest approach in 104 years, as previously covered by The Inquisitr.
Hurtling through the void of space at a little over 30,100 mph, asteroid 2019 NJ2 swooped in for its close brush with planet Earth at 3:53 p.m. ET on July 19. As JPL details, this was the asteroid’s first-ever pass through the vicinity of our planet.
During its first-ever flyby of Earth, the asteroid only managed to come within 3.18 million miles of the planet’s surface. To put that into perspective, that’s 13.31 times the distance to the moon.
In the past, the space rock has made one other trip to the inner solar system. It occurred nearly 70 years ago. On December 27, 1952, the object came relatively close to Venus, buzzing the brightest planet of our solar system from a distance of 13.12 million miles.
Asteroid 2019 NJ2 will double back for a second flyby of Earth in exactly 100 years’ time. After studying the asteroid’s orbit, JPL scientists established that the object will return for another “close Earth approach” on July 7, 2119. Its upcoming visit will carry it considerably farther away from the planet’s surface, as the space rock will only approach within 23.79 million miles of Earth, or 99.69 times the lunar distance.