A huge asteroid thought to be so large that it could potentially fit the Great Pyramid of Giza nearly two times over is headed for a close encounter with planet Earth tomorrow. Known as asteroid 2019 RC, the giant space rock is estimated to measure as much as 853 feet in diameter and was flagged as potentially dangerous, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced.
Hurtling through space at a cruising speed of more than 33,700 mph, the formidable space rock will reach Earth’s vicinity on Monday afternoon. While a close encounter with an asteroid of this size is certainly unnerving, NASA assures there’s no reason to panic. The massive asteroid will harmlessly pass by Earth at 4:43 p.m. ET on September 16, only coming within a little over 4.1 million miles of the planet’s surface. To put that into perspective, that’s a little over 17 times the distance to the moon.
As is the case with any giant space rock that traipses through our cosmic neighborhood, asteroid 2019 RC has been very carefully monitored by the JPL. The rock was only discovered two weeks ago, on September 2, and has been kept under a close watch ever since.
After a series of close observations, JPL scientists were able to plot the asteroid’s course through the inner solar system and pinpoint when it will approach Earth — and just how close it’ll get.
“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 RC, the JPL used a total of 124 observations spanning 12 days to gauge its orbital path around the sun.
Based on its size, trajectory, and proximity to our planet, asteroid 2019 RC was classified as a near-Earth object (NEO) — specifically, an Apollo-type asteroid — and was labeled as a “potentially hazardous asteroid” (PHA).
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 roughly 30 million miles away from Earth’s orbit and as close to the planet’s surface as a few times the distance to the moon — or even closer.
Aside from simply approaching our planet, asteroid 2019 RC also has the potential of being “Earth-crossing.” As an Apollo asteroid, the rock zips around the sun on an orbital path that allows it not only to come near Earth, but also to cross the planet’s orbit.
Asteroid 2019 RC has also been dubbed “potentially hazardous.” To clarify, this doesn’t suggest that the rock will slam into Earth or pose a threat to our planet. Rather, this more ominous designation relates to its towering size and proximity to Earth. PHAs are asteroids that measure at least 460 feet in diameter and follow an orbital path which brings them within 4.66 million miles of Earth’s orbit. And, based on JPL data, asteroid 2019 RC fits into those specifications.
Interestingly enough, its upcoming flyby on Monday will occur just three days after another 853-foot Apollo asteroid zipped past Earth on September 13. Also flagged as potentially dangerous, that rock came a lot closer to Earth than asteroid 2019 RC will be on Monday, flying past us a distance of 3.3 million miles away, as covered by The Inquisitr.
While some NEOs periodically pass by Earth in their journey around the sun, flying past our planet with regularity, this is not the case for asteroid 2019 RC. Its close encounter with Earth tomorrow will be the first — and last — time that the rock ventures through our corner of the solar system.