A tiny asteroid, one that was only discovered yesterday, will pass extremely close to Earth later today, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced. Dubbed asteroid 2019 TK, the space rock is thought to measure no more than 52 feet across. Hurtling through space at break-neck speeds of more than 31,000 mph, the rock will approach our planet in the late hours of the morning. As it speeds past the planet’s surface, the rock will skim Earth from a little under 290,000 miles away, creeping in almost as close as the moon.
Perhaps the most striking thing about asteroid 2019 TK is that it nearly slipped past NASA’s radar. The rock was picked up by NASA asteroid trackers only a day before its close brush with Earth. Although less than 24 hours have elapsed since the asteroid was first detected, the JPL team had just enough time to gauge its orbit and plot its course through the inner solar system. The rock is expected to approach Earth at 10:57 a.m. ET on October 3, shooting past us at a safe distance of 288,300 miles.
By comparison, the average distance between Earth and the moon is about 238,900 miles. This means that, during tomorrow’s flyby, the space rock will cruise by Earth at 1.22 times the distance to the moon.
While the thought of a close encounter with an asteroid can certainly be unsettling, particularly when the rock ventures so close to Earth’s surface, NASA assures that there’s no cause for alarm. The asteroid doesn’t pose a threat to Earth and has no risk of colliding with our planet and exploding in its atmosphere.
“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 TK, JPL scientists used a total of 24 observations to determine its orbital path. The analysis revealed that the rock orbits the sun once every 2.8 years and follows a trajectory consistent with an Apollo-type asteroid. As NASA explains, Apollo asteroids are known for their potential of being “Earth-crossing.” Named after asteroid 1862 Apollo, space rocks of this class zip through the solar system on an orbital path that allows them to occasionally intersect Earth’s orbit.
About half an hour after its near-miss with Earth, asteroid 2019 TK will swing by the moon for another close brush that will carry it within 520,800 miles of its cratered surface. After that, the rock will exit the inner solar system and continue its journey around the sun.
Interestingly enough, asteroid 2019 TK is not the only space rock to swing by Earth on October 3. The rock is actually the last of a trio of small Apollo asteroids due pass by our planet today. Asteroid 2019 TK will be preceded by an equally-sized space rock that will buzz Earth at 3:39 a.m. ET, flying at a little over 1 million miles from the planet’s surface — or 4.5 times the distance to the moon. About an hour before that, a larger 98-foot asteroid will swoop in a lot closer to Earth, passing closer than the moon.