Saturday will be a busy day for close asteroid encounters. Two space rocks are expected to pop by for a close approach to our planet on September 21, each of them buzzing Earth from a safe distance of a few million miles away.
According to a recent report from NASA, the two asteroids differ in size, with the larger one estimated to measure up to 426 feet in diameter. The space rocks will swing by Earth at different times of the day, one of them cruising by in the morning and the other swooping in for a close brush with Earth in the evening.
The first one to venture through our celestial neighborhood on Saturday is an Apollo-type asteroid dubbed 2019 RB3. As NASA explains, Apollo asteroids form an interesting class of near-Earth objects (NEOs) that are known for their potential to be “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.
Asteroid 2019 RB3 is believed to measure up to 278 feet across. The rock will harmlessly dart past Earth at 10:33 a.m. ET, when it will pass within 4.5 million miles of the planet’s surface, as previously covered by The Inquisitr.
Nearly nine hours after the asteroid flyby, a second, significantly larger space rock will shoot past Earth on yet another close encounter. Known as asteroid 2019 QZ1, the object will creep even closer to Earth than its predecessor, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced.
Just like asteroid 2019 RB3, this second celestial visitor is also classified as an Apollo asteroid. Data from NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) places the rock within a size range of between 187 feet and 426.5 feet in diameter. At the upper end of that size estimate, asteroid 2019 QZ1 is more than 1.5 times larger than its predecessor and about 1.3 times bigger than the Statue of Liberty.
While a close encounter with an asteroid of this size can be unsettling, NASA assures there’s no reason to panic. The large asteroid will safely pass by Earth as it orbits the sun, only coming within 2.96 million miles from the planet’s surface. To put that into perspective, that’s a little over 12 times the distance to the moon.
Asteroid 2019 QZ1 is due to zip past Earth at 9:19 p.m. ET. During the moment of its close approach, the rock will hurtle past Earth at a cruising speed of over 18,300 mph.
The large asteroid is not likely to return any time soon. Meanwhile, the smaller space rock will double back for another visit next year.