A relatively small asteroid, one thought to measure no more than 65.6-feet across, just shot past Earth on an extremely close approach to our planet. Known as asteroid 2019 RG2, the tiny space rock whizzed past Earth at a phenomenal speed of more than 49,100 mph, coming nearly as close as the moon, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced.
While asteroid 2019 RG2 may not be the biggest rock to traipse through our celestial neighborhood in recent weeks, it is certainly deserving of attention. The rock was only recently discovered, being first picked up by NASA asteroid trackers on September 7 – a mere two days before its close brush with Earth. After monitoring its trajectory and proximity to our planet over the course of a day, during which time scientists performed 24 observations of its orbital path, the JPL classified 2019 RG2 as a near-Earth object (NEO) – specifically, an Apollo-type asteroid.
As NASA explains, NEOs are celestial bodies, 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, as was the case with asteroid 2019 RG2.
At the same time, the rock is an Apollo asteroid. This specific classification is closely related to its orbit around the sun and signifies 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.
As far as NEOs go, 2019 RG2 is certainly not among the heftiest asteroids to buzz Earth this month. According to NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the space rock is estimated to be at least 29 feet wide and can measure up to 65.6 feet in diameter.
Even at the upper end of NASA's size estimate, 2019 RG2 doesn't hold a candle to the massive and potentially dangerous 853-foot asteroid due to pass by Earth on Friday, September 13, as previously reported by The Inquisitr. Nevertheless, the rock is still large enough to be monitored by the JPL – and is actually about the same size as the famous Chelyabinsk meteor, which penetrated Earth's atmosphere in 2013, exploding in the sky over Russia.
While that particular close encounter ended up causing substantial damage – the meteor wreaked havoc in the city of Chelyabinsk, destroying more than 7,200 buildings and injuring nearly 1,500 people – this wasn't the case for asteroid 2019 RG2. The rock harmlessly cruised by Earth at 3:13 p.m. ET on September 9, buzzing the planet from a safe distance of 325,500 miles.
To put that into perspective, that's 1.36 times the distance to the moon.
While Earth is regularly visited by NEOs, with some rocks repeatedly passing by our planet as they orbit the sun, today's flyby was the first trip through our corner of the solar system for asteroid 2019 RG2. Before making its close approach to Earth, the rock swung by the moon, passing within 130,200 miles of its cratered surface at 12:12 p.m. ET. The asteroid is not likely to return for the foreseeable future.
The last time an asteroid approached Earth at such a close distance was on September 7 – the day that asteroid 2019 RG2 was first spotted by NASA. At the time, Earth was buzzed by an even smaller Apollo asteroid, which managed to creep in a lot closer to our planet – passing between Earth and the moon, as covered by The Inquisitr.