A rather hefty asteroid, one estimated to be nearly as large as the Statue of Liberty in New York, is currently on course for a close encounter with Earth next weekend. Hurtling through the void of space at a cruising speed of almost 26,500 mph, the rock will reach Earth’s vicinity on Saturday morning, when it will zip past us at a safe distance of a few million miles, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced.
Known as asteroid 2019 RB3, the space rock was only discovered about a week and a half ago and 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 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.
In addition to approaching our planet, asteroid 2019 RB3 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 to not only come near Earth, but to also cross the planet’s orbit.
Ever since it was first spotted, asteroid 2019 RB3 has been under the close watch of the JPL. After studying its trajectory over the course of 24 observations spanning a total of four days, the JPL team was able to plot the asteroid’s course through the inner solar system and pinpoint the moment of its close approach to Earth.
“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.”
Aside from analyzing the asteroid’s orbital path, scientists also gauged its size. The rock is believed to be at least 124 feet across and can measure up to 278 feet in diameter, per NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). This means that, at the upper end of NASA’s size estimate, asteroid 2019 RB3 is nearly as big as the Statue of Liberty, which stands about 310 feet tall.
While the rock certainly boasts an impressive size, larger NEOs have been known to safely dart past Earth — quite recently, at that. At 124-feet-wide, asteroid 2019 RB3 pales in comparison to the massive 853-foot asteroid due to buzz past Earth on September 16, as previously reported by The Inquisitr.
Although only recently discovered, asteroid 2019 RB3 is not new to our cosmic neighborhood. In fact, the rock is a frequent traveler through our corner of space, regularly swinging by Earth as it orbits the sun.
The wayfaring space rock last visited Earth in 2016, when it passed at a distance of nearly 33 million miles off the planet’s surface, and is now due for another flyby on September 21. However, its next trip through our corner of the solar system will bring it a lot closer to Earth.
Asteroid 2019 RB3 is expected to swoop by for its close encounter at 10:33 a.m. ET on Saturday. At its closest point to Earth, the asteroid will pass within 4.5 million miles of the planet’s surface. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly 19 times the distance to the moon.
According to the JPL, the upcoming flyby will be the closest one in nearly a decade for asteroid 2019 RB3. The space rock hasn’t ventured this close since 2010, when it passed at a distance of 3.4 million miles from our planet.
The asteroid will return for another visit in April, when it will buzz past Earth from 42 million miles away.