Earlier today, planet Earth had a close brush with a tiny 59-foot asteroid that has only been on NASA‘s radar for a very short while. Known as asteroid 2019 TZ6, the small space rock scraped past our planet at 3:13 p.m. ET on October 11 while managing to get extremely close to Earth’s surface — so close, in fact, that the asteroid passed by at nearly the same distance as the moon.
This is the latest in a series of close asteroid encounters that have brought an unusual number of wayfaring space rocks nearly as close as the moon. For instance, a 131-foot asteroid swung by Earth on October 9, zipping past our planet at 1.41 times the distance between Earth and the moon. Before that, a 52-foot asteroid skimmed Earth on October 8 at 1.47 times the lunar distance.
On October 11, the celestial visitor also managed to creep in very close to the planet’s surface, wandering as close as 1.43 times the distance to the moon. Hurtling past us at a cruising speed of nearly 26,200 mph, the tiny rock buzzed Earth from 334,800 miles away. By comparison, the moon sits at an average distance of 238,900 miles from Earth.
The interesting thing about asteroid 2019 TZ6 is that the rock nearly slipped past NASA’s radar. According to a report released today by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, the rock was picked up by NASA asteroid trackers just yesterday. The tiny object flew past Earth only one day after being discovered, continuing the streak of close asteroid approaches that has been occurring over the past two weeks.
Although only recently spotted, asteroid 2019 TZ6 is not new to our corner of space. The asteroid orbits the sun once every 373 days and frequently passes by Earth as it circles the giant star. Its orbital path around the sun indicates that the rock is an Apollo-type asteroid. This means that the asteroid zips through the solar system on an orbit that allows it not only to approach Earth, but to occasionally intersect the planet’s orbit as well. As such, NASA has labeled the asteroid as potentially “Earth-crossing.”
Over the past 80 years, asteroid 2019 TZ6 has visited Earth a total of 29 times. However, today’s flyby was the closest that the rock has ever gotten to our planet — and the closest it ever hopes to get for the foreseeable future. In the past, the asteroid only managed to come as close as 1.7 million miles of Earth in 1941. During the next century-and-a-half, the rock will perform another 58 flybys of Earth, only coming as close as 613,800 miles from the planet’s surface in 2175. This makes today’s visit the closest one of all time for the tiny space rock.
Before its close brush with Earth on Friday afternoon, the asteroid swung by the moon this morning. At 9:13 a.m. ET, the rock darted past the moon at a distance of 427,800 miles.
The asteroid will return for its next visit in 2020, and then again in 2021 and 2022 to buzz Earth on a yearly basis until 2043. After that, the rock will disappear for nearly five decades, only to resume its yearly visits in 2091.