Planet Earth will be buzzed by a relatively small asteroid tomorrow, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced. While the space rock is not a particularly hefty one — the asteroid is estimated to be 91-feet wide at the most — tomorrow’s close encounter will be one for the records. As it barrels through the void of space at speeds of a little over 22,600 mph, the asteroid will creep in extremely close to the planet’s surface, passing even closer than the distance of the Earth to the moon.
Tomorrow’s celestial visitor is listed in the JPL records as asteroid 2019 UG11. The space rock is expected to approach Earth in the afternoon and will reach its closest point to our planet at 4:42 p.m. ET. At the time, the rock will be passing within just 130,200 miles from the Earth’s surface. By comparison, the moon sits at an average distance of 238,900 miles from Earth. This means that, during its close flyby of Earth on November 1, the asteroid will skim the planet from halfway the distance to the moon.
This is the closest asteroid encounter to occur in the past two months. In early September, a tinier 33-foot asteroid scraped past Earth at an even closer distance, buzzing the planet from only 111,600 miles away. To put that into perspective, that’s 0.48 times the lunar distance. In early October, another asteroid — one slightly larger than 2019 UG11 — swung by for a close brush with Earth, passing nearly as close as the moon.
According to a report released today by the JPL, asteroid 2019 UG11 was only recently discovered. The space rock was first spotted on October 21 and has been attentively monitored by the JPL over the past 10 days. Although the asteroid is due to pass unnervingly close to Earth, NASA assures that the rock poses no threat of hitting our planet.
After studying its orbit and carefully plotting its course through the inner solar system, the space agency was able to calculate the asteroid’s trajectory and determined that the rock will safely fly past Earth on its journey around the sun.
As NASA explains, the orbit of an asteroid is calculated based on a series of measurements of its position as it moves across the sky. The data is then compared to computer model predictions of the rock’s orbital path to verify the calculations.
“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,” detailed the space agency.
In the case of asteroid 2019 UG11, scientists used 37 observations to gauge out its orbit. The observations took place over a period of 10 days, the last one occurring today. Based on its orbital path, the object was classified as an Apollo-type asteroid. This means that the rock will not only approach Earth, but also occasionally cross the planet’s orbit.
The interesting thing about asteroid 2019 UG11 is that it’s currently on its first trip through our corner of space. The rock orbits the sun once every 624 days, or 1.7 years, and has made only one previous visit to the inner solar system. The asteroid swung by Venus a little over 10 years ago, but didn’t take the route of Earth to get there.
This makes tomorrow’s close approach its first-ever flyby of Earth, in a series of a few more to come. About a couple of hours after its close brush with Earth, the fast asteroid will zip past the moon, coming within 353,400 miles of its cratered surface. After that, the rock will return for another visit next April, when it will pass at a staggering 46.4 million miles from Earth. The rock will then disappear for a little over six decades, only to reemerge in 2082, and then again in 2087.