A rather sizeable asteroid, one believed to measure as much as 360 feet in diameter, is currently speeding in Earth’s direction and will swing by for a close, but perfectly safe, encounter tomorrow. Hurtling through space at a little over 13,000 mph, the rock will reach Earth’s vicinity on Monday morning, harmlessly passing by our planet on its journey around the sun.
Originally discovered three years ago, our celestial visitor was dubbed asteroid 2016 PD1. The space rock was first spotted on August 2, 2016, or about a month before it performed a close approach to Earth. At the time, the asteroid passed within 5.54 million miles of the planet’s surface. Monday’s flyby will bring the rock significantly closer to Earth, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced yesterday.
After studying the rock’s orbital path, the JPL team classified 2016 PD1 as a near-Earth object (NEO), specifically an Amor-type asteroid. 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 – or even closer.
Meanwhile, the asteroid’s Amor classification suggests that, unlike Apollo and Aten asteroids, the object follows an orbital path which allows it to approach Earth without actually crossing the planet’s orbit, NASA points out.
As far as NEOs go, asteroid 2016 PD1 is relatively hefty. According to NASA’s Center For Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the object is estimated to be at least 157 feet wide and measures up to 360 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.”
Thankfully, the upcoming close brush with the asteroid won’t pose any threat to Earth and its inhabitants. NASA assures that the space rock will safely fly past our planet, only coming within a few million miles of Earth.
Asteroid 2016 PD1 is expected to swoop in for its close approach in the early hours of Monday morning. The asteroid will dart past Earth at 4:35 a.m. ET, buzzing our planet from 2.68 million miles away.
To put that into perspective, that’s 11.28 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
While that may sound like a vast distance by terrestrial standards, 2.6 million miles is a mere stone’s throw away in cosmic terms. In fact, this is the closest that asteroid 2016 PD1 has gotten to our planet so far.
The wayfaring asteroid is a frequent visitor of our corner of the solar system. Over the last 88 years, the space rock has performed 22 flybys of Earth – with many more announced for the next 180 years. However, in all of its previous travels through the inner solar system, asteroid 2016 PD1 has never crept in as close to Earth as it will do on Monday.
This makes the upcoming encounter with the asteroid its closest-yet approach to Earth.
The record will go undefeated for quite some time. The only two instances when asteroid 2016 PD1 is expected to wander slightly closer to Earth are in 2028 and in 2199.