A rather sizable chunk of space rock is currently making its way toward Earth and will reach our planet’s vicinity tomorrow, NASA has reported. Hurtling through the void of space at 30,900 mph, the wayfaring asteroid will perform a swift flyby of Earth in the late hours of the evening, coming within a few million miles of the planet’s surface, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced today.
This is the latest in a string of close asteroid approaches that have brought space rocks of all sizes within a relatively short distance from Earth. For instance, on October 25, Earth was buzzed by a massive 3,250-foot asteroid that made it as close as 3.85 million miles from the planet’s surface. More recently, a tiny 46-foot space rock scraped past Earth earlier today, creeping in nearly as close as the moon.
Tomorrow’s celestial visitor is known as asteroid 2019 TR2 and was discovered earlier this month, being first spotted on October 5. The rock zips around the sun once every 1,143 days, or a little over three years, and is believed to be large enough to potentially dwarf the Statue of Liberty in New York.
According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the asteroid is thought to be at least 183-feet wide and can measure up to 393 feet in diameter. By comparison, the Statue of Liberty stands 310-feet tall.
While a close encounter with an asteroid, particularly one this large, can be understandably unnerving, NASA assures there’s no cause for alarm. Asteroid 2019 TR2 will safely fly past our planet on Monday, harmlessly cruising by as it treks the inner solar system. Over the past 21 days, the space agency has kept the hefty space rock under close observation, gathering as many measurements of its position in the sky and developing computer models of its orbit around the sun.
“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,” explains NASA.
In this particular case, NASA used 76 observations of the rock’s trajectory. The data enabled JPL scientists to classify the object as an Apollo-type asteroid — asteroids that can not only approach Earth, but also cross the planet’s orbit — and to determine the time and distance of its upcoming close approach.
The asteroid is expected to swing by Earth a shortly before midnight on October 28. The rock will reach its closest point to our planet at 11:27 p.m. ET, when it will pass within 4.6 million miles of Earth. To put that into perspective, that’s 19.30 times the distance to the moon.
Interestingly enough, tomorrow’s trip through our cosmic neighborhood will be the first and closest approach to Earth for asteroid 2019 TR2. The rock has never before passed through our corner of the solar system and will make a memorable debut come Monday night.
Over the next 123 years, the asteroid will return to our corner of space four more times, with its next flyby occurring in 2023. However, its upcoming visits will carry it a lot farther from the planet’s surface, at distances of tens of million miles. The only time the rock will approach at a comparable distance will be in 2138, when it will pass within 5.2 million miles of Earth.