A rather sizeable asteroid is due for a close visit of planet Earth later today, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced. Known as asteroid 2019 QQ, the space rock is estimated to measure as much as 177 feet across and will swoop by for a so-called Earth approach at 9:30 p.m. ET on Friday night.
One notable thing about asteroid 2019 QQ is that the rock was only discovered earlier this week. The object was first picked up by NASA’s radar, so to speak, on August 21 – just two days before its impending close brush with Earth. Another noteworthy fact is that the space rock is about to perform a momentous flyby of Earth and is on course for its closest-ever approach to our planet, per a new report released today by the JPL.
After analyzing its orbit around the sun and its proximity to our planet, JPL scientists classified 2019 QQ 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 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 – or even closer.
Meanwhile, the asteroid’s 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.
Though only recently discovered, the space rock is a frequent traveler through our part of the solar system. After studying its orbital path, JPL scientists were able to compile a list of all of the asteroids previous and upcoming encounters with Earth, going back in the past to the year 1979 and stretching seven decades into the future until the year 2089.
According to the JPL, in the last 40 years, asteroid 2019 QQ has clocked in seven flybys of Earth, not including the one about to occur today. Over the next 70 years, the space rock is expected to perform four times as many close approaches to our planet, for a total of 28 flybys of Earth.
Interestingly enough, today’s brush with Earth will be the closest that asteroid 2019 QQ has ever gotten to our planet – and the closest that it will ever hope to get for the foreseeable future.
Although not particularly large, asteroid 2019 QQ is still big enough to be monitored by NASA. The object is believed to be at least 78.7 feet wide and has a maximum estimated diameter of 177 feet, as shown by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).
The wayfaring space rock is currently making its way toward Earth and will reach our planet’s vicinity in the late hours of the evening. Hurtling through the void of space at nearly 27,400 mph, the asteroid will buzz Earth from a distance of 2.38 million miles away. To put that into perspective, that’s almost 10 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
Asteroid 2019 QQ will double back for a return trip next summer. However, its next visit will only bring it a staggering 36.8 million miles of Earth’s surface.