Planet Earth is in for a very close asteroid encounter later today. After a series of multiple close approaches that have brought entire clusters of asteroids within a few million miles of the planet’s surface — and even closer than that, as previously reported by The Inquisitr — another space rock is gearing up for a close flyby of Earth. Today’s celestial visitor is known as asteroid 2019 UD3 and will approach extremely close to our planet, creeping in within a few times the distance to the moon, scientists as NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) have announced.
The interesting thing about asteroid 2019 UD3 is that it was only recently discovered. According to a report released today by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the near-Earth asteroid was first spotted on Monday, October 21 — just three days before its close brush with Earth. The space rock orbits the sun once every 1,032 days, or 2.83 years, and is currently embarked on its second trip through our corner of the solar system. The asteroid has previously visited Earth nearly a century ago, in 1923, when it only managed to approach within 29.2 million miles from the planet’s surface. Its current trip through our neck of the cosmic woods will bring it significantly closer to Earth, as the space rock is expected to skim the planet from a distance of under 1 million miles.
Similar to the few groups of asteroids that have wandered through our corner of space since the beginning of October, 2019 UD3 is also classified as an Apollo-type asteroid. As NASA explains, space rocks of this class get their name form asteroid 1862 Apollo and are known for their potential of being “Earth-crossing.” These asteroids zip around the sun on orbital paths that allow them not only to approach Earth but also to intersect the planet’s orbit, hence the “Earth-crossing” moniker.
Size-wise, asteroid 2019 UD3 packs a relatively meager punch. The space rock is certainly not the smallest to pass through Earth’s vicinity in recent weeks. However, it can’t be counted among the largest either. The asteroid is believed to be at least 62 feet wide and can measure up to 137 feet in diameter, per CNEOS. At the upper end of NASA’s size estimate, the rock is a little over two times the size of the famous Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded in the sky over Russia in 2013. Yet, while relatively sizeable, 2019 UD3 pales in comparison with the massive 3,250-foot Apollo asteroid due to pass by Earth tomorrow.
Asteroid 2019 UD3 is expected to swoop in for its close brush with Earth before noon today. Hurtling through space at break-neck speeds of nearly 27,000 mph, the rock will reach ts closest point to Earth at 11:33 a.m. ET, when it will buzz the planet from 939,300 miles away. To put that into perspective, that’s almost four times the distance to the moon.
Following its flyby of Earth, the asteroid will swing by the moon later this afternoon, for another close approach that will bring it within 818,400 miles from the lunar surface. The rock is not expected to return for the foreseeable future.