Next week, planet Earth is in for a close encounter with an asteroid believed to be larger than the Statue of Liberty. Estimated to measure up to 328-feet across, the hefty space rock will cruise by Earth bright and early on Monday morning, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced. However, there is no reason to fret, assures the space agency. The asteroid doesn't pose any threat to our planet and will harmlessly pass by us at a safe distance of a few million miles from Earth's surface.
Known as asteroid 2019 JF1, our celestial visitor has been on NASA's radar for a few months. First discovered in early May, the space rock has been rigorously monitored by the JPL, which has managed to plot its orbital path around the sun.
"Scientists determine the orbit of an asteroid by comparing measurements of its position as it moves across the sky to the predictions of a computer model of its orbit around the sun," explains NASA.
"The more observations that are used and the longer the period over which those observations are made, the more accurate the calculated orbit and the predictions that can be made from it."In the case of asteroid 2019 JF1, scientists have used a total of 59 observations spanning 118 days to gauge its trajectory through the inner solar system. Based on its orbit and its proximity to our planet, the rock was 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 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 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, NASA says.
As far as NEOs go, asteroid 2019 JF1 is relatively large. The rock is believed to be anywhere between 151 feet and 328 feet in diameter. By comparison, the Statue of Liberty in New York is about 310 feet tall. This means that, at the upper end of NASA's size estimate, the asteroid would be larger than the iconic American landmark.
As impressive as that may be, even bigger asteroids have been known to wander through our corner of space and safely pass by Earth as they orbit the sun. For instance, asteroid 2019 JF1 doesn't hold a candle to the massive 2,132-foot asteroid due to swing by Earth later today, as reported by The Inquisitr.
Asteroid 2019 JF1 will swoop in for its close approach to Earth in the predawn hours of September 16. Traveling at a cruising speed of a little over 9,600 mph, the rock is expected to buzz Earth at 2:44 a.m. ET, when it will come within 2.6 million miles of the planet's surface.
To put that into perspective, that's 11.16 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
Interestingly enough, the upcoming asteroid flyby will occur just four days after another, equally-sized Apollo asteroid zipped past Earth at over 29,000 mph from 3.84 million miles away, as previously covered by The Inquisitr.
Monday's close encounter won't be the first time that asteroid 2019 JF1 has visited our planet – nor will it be the last. However, its upcoming flyby of Earth will be the closest it has ever performed, per the JPL.
The rock previously passed through our corner of the solar system in 2013, flying at a staggering 45 million miles from Earth. The wayfaring asteroid will return a decade from now, in 2029, coming as close as 4 million miles of our planet.