A rather large asteroid, one thought to be bigger than the Statue of Liberty in New York, is headed for a so-called “close Earth approach” later today, NASA has announced. The object is traveling at a phenomenal speed and will reach Earth’s vicinity in the afternoon. Hurtling through space at a break-neck speed of over 51,800 mph, the rock will approach Earth at 3:43 p.m. ET, when it will harmlessly pass by our planet at a safe distance of 3.6 million miles. To put that into perspective, that’s a little over 15 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
According to a report released today by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the swift asteroid was discovered merely four days ago, on October 28. Dubbed asteroid 2019 UD13, the rock was attentively monitored by NASA scientists in an effort to determine its orbit around the sun and to calculate its proximity to Earth. Based on its orbital path, 2019 UD13 was classified as a near-Earth object (NEO), specifically an Amor-type asteroid. Unlike Apollo asteroids and Aten asteroids, which are known to occasionally cross Earth’s orbit as they circle the sun, Amor asteroids follow an orbit that allows them to approach Earth without actually intersecting the planet’s orbit.
Size-wise, asteroid 2019 UD13 is a rather hefty chunk of space rock. The object is thought to measure at least 173.8 feet in diameter and can be up to 393.7 feet wide, per NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). At the upper end of that size estimate, the asteroid is 1.27 times larger than the Statue of Liberty, which stands 310 feet tall.
Asteroid 2019 UD13 orbits the sun once every 514 days, or 1.4 years. Its journey around the giant star rarely brings the rock through our corner of the solar system; in fact, today’s flyby of Earth is only the second trip to our cosmic neighborhood for the speedy asteroid. The rock previously visited Earth in 2016. At the time, it flew at a considerably larger distance from the planet’s surface, only approaching within 45.1 million miles of Earth. The asteroid is not expected to return for the foreseeable future.
This is the second 393-foot asteroid to swing by Earth in less than a week. On October 28, a similarly-sized Apollo asteroid known as 2019 TR2 buzzed Earth from 4.6 million miles away, as reported by The Inquisitr at the time.
Asteroid 2019 UD13 is not the only space rock to cruise by Earth today. An hour later, the rock will be followed by a significantly smaller 91-foot Apollo asteroid, which will pass extremely close to the planet’s surface, missing Earth by just 130,200 miles.