Planet Earth is in for a very close encounter with an asteroid tomorrow. Hot on the heels of an asteroid flyby that brought an 82-foot space rock within just 1.34 million miles from the planet’s surface — or 5.6 times the distance to the moon — earlier this morning, another, slightly larger asteroid is expected to swing by for a close brush with Earth on Monday. Dubbed asteroid 2019 SN3, tomorrow’s celestial visitor will creep in even closer to Earth’s surface, skimming the planet at a little over two times the lunar distance.
As its name suggests, the wayfaring asteroid was only recently discovered. Data from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, shows that the rock was first spotted earlier this week, being picked up by asteroid trackers on September 23. Cruising through the void of space at a little over 17,100 mph, the asteroid will reach Earth’s vicinity in the early hours of Monday morning — exactly one week after its discovery.
The space rock will pop by for a close visit just in time for the morning coffee, safely darting past Earth at 7:46 a.m. ET. At its closest point to Earth, asteroid 2019 SN3 will fly at a distance of 520,800 miles from the planet’s surface. By comparison, the average distance between Earth and the moon is about 238,900 miles. This means that, during Monday’s flyby, the space rock will approach Earth at 2.20 times the distance to the moon.
While the thought of a close brush with an asteroid can certainly be unnerving, especially one that wanders so close to the planet’s surface, NASA assures that there’s no reason to panic. The space rock will harmlessly fly past Earth tomorrow morning — and then swing by the moon a couple of hours later, shooting past its crater-pockmarked surface from 725,400 miles away.
Given its close proximity to our planet, 2019 SN3 is classified as a near-Earth object (NEO) in the JPL records. The space rock is estimated to measure somewhere between 42 feet and 95 feet in diameter — and orbits the sun once every 973 days, or about two-and-a-half years. As it circles the sun, the object follows an orbital path that allows it to cross Earth’s orbit. This particular characteristic has earned it the designation of an Apollo-type asteroid — space rocks that zip through the solar system on an orbit that allows them to occasionally cross that of Earth.
Its upcoming flyby will not only be a very close one but also the first time that asteroid 2019 SN3 has visited our planet in nearly a quarter of a century. The last time that the space rock passed through our neck of the cosmic woods was 24 years ago — in mid-December 1995. At the time, the small asteroid buzzed Earth from much farther away, only managing to approach within 26.6 million miles of the planet’s surface.
The asteroid is not expected to return anytime soon.
Tomorrow’s flyby is the latest in a series of close asteroid encounters that have occurred over the past two weeks. Later today, an even bigger 134-foot Apollo asteroid will shoot past Earth at a little over three times the distance to the moon.