Saturday is shaping up to be quite a busy day for close asteroid encounters. No less than five different space rocks are set to fly past Earth on October 12, each of them cruising by at a different time of day. Interestingly enough, the multi-asteroid flyby comes just four days after a similar celestial event — one that sent a swarm of eight asteroids shooting past Earth on October 8, three of which came extremely close to the planet’s surface.
This weekend’s asteroid flyby will bring five recently discovered asteroids to our corner of the solar system. According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), two of the space rocks were picked up by NASA asteroid trackers just last week, on October 3 and October 6, while the rest were first spotted in late September. The rocks vary in size and speed and will come flying through our celestial neighborhood starting at noon ET. While the asteroids couldn’t be more different from one another, they all share one common trait: all of them have been classified as Apollo-type asteroids, based on their orbits around the sun.
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 around the solar system on an orbital path that occasionally allows them to intersect Earth’s orbit. This particular characteristic was observed in all of the five asteroids due to pass by Earth on Saturday, as shown by a number of reports on each individual space rock released this week by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
The first asteroid to swing by Earth tomorrow is an 82-foot rock known as asteroid 2019 TN1. The object orbits the sun once every 1,552 days, or a little over four years, and is currently embarked on its first-ever trip through the inner solar system. The asteroid is expected to approach our planet shortly before noon on Saturday, reaching its closest point to Earth at 11:42 a.m. ET. Traveling at a cruising speed of 19,100 mph, the rock will safely pass by at a distance of 3 million miles from the planet’s surface. To put that into perspective, that nearly 13 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
Several hours later, a slightly larger and somewhat slower asteroid is due to make its way past our planet. Dubbed asteroid 2019 SK8, the rock is estimated to measure as much as 114 feet in diameter and is a frequent traveler through our corner of space.
This particular Apollo asteroid circles the sun once every 576 days and often passes by Earth on its journey around the giant star. Over the past 80 years, the asteroid has visited Earth seven other times. Its upcoming flyby of Earth will be the closest it has ever gotten to our planet — and the closest it will ever hope to get for the foreseeable future.
Asteroid 2019 SK8 will swing by Earth at 5:32 p.m. ET. The rock will be traveling at a speed of around 18,880 mph and will manage to creep in a little closer to Earth than its predecessor, approaching within 2.5 million miles of the planet’s surface — or nearly 10.5 times the distance to the moon. The asteroid will return for another visit next year, and then again in 2031 and 2087.
Seventeen minute later, Earth will be visited by a 173-foot Apollo asteroid that goes by the name of asteroid 2019 SV9. The asteroid orbits the sun once every 1,206 days, or 3.3 years. Similar to asteroid 2019 TN1 — the first celestial visitor of the day — the space rock is also gearing up for its first-ever flyby of Earth.
Of all the asteroids slated to pass by Earth on Saturday, asteroid 2019 SV9 will fly the closest to the planet’s surface. Hurtling through space at a little over 30,200 mph, the rock will swoop in for its close approach at 5:49 p.m. ET, buzzing Earth from a little over 2 million miles away — or 8.56 times the lunar distance. The asteroid is not expected to return anytime soon.
Exactly 20 minutes after the close asteroid flyby, planet Earth will have a run-in with the biggest space rock of the bunch — a 301-foot Apollo asteroid nearly as large as the Statue of Liberty in New York and which zips around the sun once every 516 days.
Dubbed asteroid 2019 SE2, the space rock is not new to our corner of the solar system and has visited Earth eight times before over the last 75 years. Just like asteroid 2019 SK8, asteroid 2019 SE2 is also gearing up for its closest-ever brush with Earth, one that will bring it within 4.5 million miles of the planet’s surface. This makes the rock the farthest one from Earth among the small group of asteroids that are coming our way on Saturday.
Asteroid 2019 SE2 will approach Earth at a velocity of over 22,800 mph. The rock will dart past our planet at 6:19 p.m. ET, passing within a little over 19 times the distance to the moon. The asteroid won’t double back for another visit for more than a century, only crossing paths with Earth again in 2123.
Last but not least, Earth will be buzzed by asteroid 2019 TQ3 in the late hours of the evening. Discovered just four days ago, the rock is believed to be about 127 feet across and orbits the sun once every 980 days.
Zipping through the inner solar system at a break-neck speed of over 40,800 mph, the asteroid will barrel past Earth at 8:37 p.m. ET, wandering as close as 2.2 million miles from the planet’s surface. This will be the first and last trip through our neck of the cosmic woods for the wayfaring space rock.