An asteroid discovered just three days ago shot past Earth earlier today on its first-ever approach to our planet. Known as asteroid 2019 QD4, the space rock is believed to measure up to 124 feet in diameter and is a fresh visitor to our corner of the solar system. Its first trip to our neck of the cosmic woods brought the rock quite close to our planet, as asteroid 2019 QD4 crept in at under six times the distance to the moon.
According to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the rock was first picked up by NASA asteroid trackers on August 28. Although only recently discovered, JPL scientists had just enough time to gauge out the asteroid’s orbit around the sun and pinpoint the date of its then-impending approach to Earth.
Based on the rock’s orbital path and proximity to our planet, the JPL team classified 2019 QD4 as a near-Earth object (NEO) and determined that it was 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.
At the same time, the rock’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.
As far as NEOs go, asteroid 2019 QD4 is not a particularly hefty one. The object is thought to be at least 55.7 feet wide and can measure up to 124.6 feet in diameter, per NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). The size range places the asteroid somewhat on the smaller side – especially in comparison to the massive 1,214-foot space rock due to buzz Earth next week, as reported by The Inquisitr.
While not particularly sizable, asteroid 2019 QD4 is still large enough to be monitored by the JPL. The rock performed its close approach to Earth at 5:53 p.m. ET on August 31, zipping past at a break-neck speed of more than 50,300 mph.
During today’s close encounter, the celestial body wandered as close as 1.4 million miles of Earth. To put that into perspective, that’s exactly 5.88 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
While this was the rock’s first visit to our corner of space, it won’t be the last. Asteroid 2019 QD4 is due for a return trip 86 years from now, in 2105. Its upcoming flyby of Earth will carry it a little farther out from the planet’s surface, flinging the rock some 1.6 million miles away.
After that, asteroid 2019 QD4 will pass by Earth again in 2108. The flyby will be a significantly more distant one, as the rock will only manage to get within a staggering 44.12 million miles of Earth.