A tiny asteroid thought to be about the same size as the famous Chelyabinsk meteor just shot past Earth on an incredibly close approach to our planet. Hurtling through space at a cruising speed of 30,000 mph, the minuscule rock skimmed Earth on Thursday afternoon, coming nearly as close as the moon.
According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the small asteroid was only discovered earlier this month, about two weeks before its close brush with Earth. Dubbed 2019 SC, 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 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, as was the case for asteroid 2019 SC.
In addition to being a NEO, today’s celestial visitor is also labeled as an Apollo asteroid. This specific classification is closely related to its orbit around the sun and signifies that the rock 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.
Data from NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) indicates that asteroid 2019 SC is of relatively meager proportions. The rock is estimated to be at least 29 feet wide and is thought to measure up to 65.6 feet in diameter. At the upper end of NASA’s size estimate, the asteroid is only slightly bigger than the Chelyabinsk meteor, which made headlines in 2013, when it penetrated Earth’s atmosphere and exploded in the sky over Russia.
While still large enough to be monitored by the JPL, asteroid 2019 SC pales in comparison to the 278-foot asteroid due to cruise by Earth on Saturday morning, per another report from The Inquisitr.
The tiny asteroid swooped in for its close approach to Earth at 2:37 p.m. ET on September 19, flying at a distance of 334,800 miles from the planet’s surface. By comparison, the moon sits at an average distance of 238,900 miles from Earth. This means that, during its close flyby of Earth, the asteroid passed within 1.4 times the lunar distance.
About 20 minutes before zipping past Earth, the rock swung by the moon for a close visit that brought it some 93,000 miles from its cratered surface.
Today’s close encounter with planet Earth was the first trip to the inner solar system for asteroid 2019 SC. Last year, the rock made a relatively close pass by Jupiter as it navigated the outer solar system. The asteroid is not likely to return for the foreseeable future.