A large, recently discovered asteroid is currently making its way toward Earth and will safely pass by our planet later today, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced. The space rock is thought to be so large that it could potentially dwarf the Statue of Liberty, rivaling the Great Pyramid of Giza in size. Known as asteroid 2019 SX5, our celestial visitor is traveling through the solar system at phenomenal speeds of more than 48,800 mph and will reach Earth's vicinity in the late hours of the afternoon. However, NASA assures that there is no reason to panic — the large asteroid has no chance of hitting Earth and will harmlessly cruise by our planet at a safe distance of a few million miles.
As its name suggests, asteroid 2019 SX5 was uncovered by astronomers this year. The rock was picked up by NASA asteroid trackers just last month, after being first spotted on September 6. According to JPL records, the asteroid was kept under close observation for a period of 30 days so that scientists could gauge its orbit around the sun. Given its close proximity to our planet, 2019 SX5 was classified as a near-Earth object (NEO). The space rock orbits the sun once every 1,062 days, or about three years. As it circles the giant star, 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 intersect Earth's orbit.
Based on JPL observations, asteroid 2019 SX5 appears to be quite a hefty rock. The object is estimated to be at least 203 feet across and can measure up to 460 feet in diameter, per NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). At the upper end of that size estimate, the asteroid is about the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and is 1.5 times bigger than the Statue of Liberty in New York, which stands about 310 feet tall.
At 460 feet wide, 2019 SX5 is a little over 3.5 times larger than the 131-foot Apollo asteroid that skimmed Earth on Wednesday, passing nearly as close as the moon. However, the rock is not the biggest one to wander through our neck of the celestial woods this month. Even at the upper end of NASA's size estimate, 2019 SX5 doesn't hold a candle to the massive 3,250-foot Apollo asteroid set to fly past Earth on October 25.
Asteroid 2019 SX5 is expected to approach Earth at 7:06 p.m. ET. The rock will hurtle past our planet at a distance of a little over 4.21 million miles and then exit the inner solar system as it continues its journey around the sun. To put that into perspective, that's 17.64 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.
While 4 million miles may sound like a vast distance in terrestrial terms, by cosmic standards, it's only a stone's throw away. In fact, this will be the closest that asteroid 2019 SX5 has ever gotten to our planet — and the closest it ever hopes to get for the next 27 years. Over the past 113 years, the asteroid has visited Earth another 16 times, only getting as close as 7.3 million miles in 1909. The last time it swung by Earth was in late 2016, when it buzzed the planet from a staggering 36.7 million miles away.
After today's close encounter with Earth, the asteroid will disappear for nearly a quarter of a century, only to resurface in 2043. After that, the rock will return in 2046, when it will creep in within 3.93 million miles of Earth's surface.