A rather tiny asteroid, one no larger than 52 feet across, will skim Earth next week on a very close, but perfectly safe, asteroid encounter, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced. Dubbed asteroid 2019 QY4, the rock was first spotted on Sept. 5 and is currently en route for a close brush with Earth that will bring it just under 600,000 miles from the planet’s surface on Monday.
Although just recently discovered, asteroid 2019 QY4 is not new to our celestial neighborhood. The space rock has visited Earth two times before, in 1988 and in 2013. However, its previous journeys through our corner of the solar system have only brought it as close as 23 million miles from Earth. This makes its upcoming flyby the closest approach to Earth this particular asteroid has made in recorded history.
After studying the rock’s orbital path around the sun, JPL scientists were able to plot its course through the inner solar system and pinpoint the dates of its past and future Earth flybys. According to the JPL, Monday will be the closest the asteroid will ever venture to Earth.
Based on its orbit and proximity to our planet, asteroid 2019 QY4 has been 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 the sun, NEOs can venture as far as 30 million miles from Earth’s orbit, and as close to the planet’s surface as a few times the distance to the moon — or even closer.
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 says.
As far as NEOs go, asteroid 2019 QY4 is not a particularly hefty one. Data from NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) indicates that the rock is estimated to measure at least 23 feet in diameter and can be up to 52.5 feet wide.
While this places asteroid 2019 QY4 on the smaller side, it is still large enough to cause some serious damage should it wander too close for comfort. At 52 feet wide, the rock is only a little smaller than the 65.5-foot Chelyabinsk meteor that famously penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere six years ago. Though only slightly larger than asteroid 2019 QY4, the Chelyabinsk meteor caused a substantial amount of damage when it exploded in the sky over Russia on February 15, 2013, destroying more than 7,200 buildings and injuring nearly 1,500 people.
Thankfully, the upcoming close brush with asteroid 2019 QY4 won’t pose any threat to Earth and its inhabitants. The JPL assures that the asteroid will harmlessly pass by our planet at a safe distance, only coming within 595,200 miles of Earth’s surface, or exactly 2.5 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
Asteroid 2019 QY4 will swoop in for its close approach to Earth in the late hours of Monday night on the East Coast of the U.S. Cruising through the void of space at a little over 17,400 mph, the asteroid will buzz Earth at 9:11 p.m. ET on Sept. 9.
The space rock will return for another visit next year, on Jan. 7, and then again exactly five years to the date, on January 7, 2025. However, its future trips through our corner of space will only bring it as close as 33.2 million miles from Earth.