Next week, Earth is in for a momentous encounter with a wayfaring asteroid that will bring the celestial object closer to our planet than it ever hopes to get for the following 163 years. Known as asteroid 2015 HM10, the space rock is estimated to be up to 360 feet wide and will come whizzing by for a close flyby of Earth in the early hours of Wednesday morning, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced yesterday.
As its name suggests, our celestial visitor was originally discovered four years ago – on April 18, 2015, to be exact. Nearly three months after it was first picked up by NASA’s radar, so to speak, the asteroid performed a very close flyby of Earth, coming within 269,700 miles of the planet’s surface – or a little more than the distance to the moon.
Based on its orbital path around the sun and its proximity to our planet, asteroid 2015 was classified as a near-Earth object (NEO), specifically an Apollo-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 – or even closer.
Meanwhile, the Apollo designation refers to the fact that this particular NEO has the potential of being “Earth crossing.” Named after asteroid 1862 Apollo, space rocks of this class zip around the solar system on an orbital path that occasionally allows them to cross Earth’s orbit, NASA points out.
According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), asteroid 2015 HM10 is thought to measure at least 167 feet in diameter and be up to 360.8 feet across.
“An object this big would tower over the Statue of Liberty in New York and match 75 Queen-Size beds in a row,” noted the British media outlet, The Express, in reference to a similarly-sized asteroid that flew past Earth in early June, as reported by The Inquisitr at the time.
“Even towards the lower end of NASA’s estimate, the rock would be big enough to cause widespread damage.”
Luckily, asteroid 2015 HM10 will not pose any threat to Earth and its inhabitants, as it will approach the planet from a perfectly safe distance. JPL assures that the hefty space rock will harmlessly pass by us next week, only coming within a few million miles of Earth’s surface.
Data from NASA shows that the asteroid will swoop past Earth in the predawn hours of July 24, coming in for a so-called “close Earth approach” at 2 a.m. ET. Hurtling through the void of space at nearly 21,300 mph, the object will buzz Earth from 2.91 million miles away. To put that into perspective, that’s 12.20 times the distance to the moon.
Though it may seem like a vast distance by terrestrial standards, 3 million miles is just a stone’s throw away in cosmic terms. In fact, the space rock won’t have any chance to get this close to Earth for a very long time.
After studying its orbit for the past four years, JPL scientists have put together a list of all of the asteroid’s past and future flybys of Earth – going back 119 years into the past, to the year 1900, and stretching for more than a century and a half into the future, until the year 2182.
Interestingly enough, next week’s flyby is the closest that the asteroid ever hopes to get for the foreseeable future. The only other instance when the space rock will approach Earth from a comparable distance will be 90 years from now, on June 26, 2109. At the time, asteroid 2015 HM10 is expected to shoot past Earth at a distance of 4.3 million miles. All of its other future flybys will carry the asteroid significantly further away from our planet’s surface.