Tomorrow morning, planet Earth will be buzzed by a tiny asteroid in one of the closest asteroid approaches of the entire year, NASA has announced. Known as 2019 VD, the minuscule space rock will pass extremely close to Earth’s surface, missing our planet by just 102,300 miles.
To put that into perspective, that’s less than half the distance between Earth and the moon. Earth’s natural satellite sits at an average distance of 238,900 miles from the terrestrial surface. This means that asteroid 2019 VD will pass at exactly 0.45 times the distance to the moon during tomorrow’s near-miss.
Only one other asteroid has flown closer to Earth in recent months. On November 2, a 42-foot asteroid skimmed Earth at 0.28 times the lunar distance, creeping in within 65,100 miles of Earth. This makes tomorrow’s encounter the second closest flyby in quite a while, followed by a 33-foot asteroid that scraped past Earth at 0.48 times the distance to the moon in early September.
Tomorrow’s celestial visitor is expected to swing by Earth in the early hours of the morning. Hurtling through space at a cruising speed of a little over 26,800 mph, the asteroid will reach its closest point to Earth at 4:44 a.m. ET. A few hours before its close brush with Earth, the rock will swoop in for a close flyby of the moon. The asteroid will zip past the moon at 1:17 a.m. ET, coming within 158,100 miles from the lunar surface.
As its name suggests, asteroid 2019 VD was discovered this year, being picked up by NASA asteroid trackers very recently. The rock was first spotted on October 28, exactly one week before its upcoming close flyby of Earth, and was classified as an Apollo-type asteroid — a class of space rocks known for occasionally being “Earth-crossing.” These asteroids circle the sun on orbital paths that allow them not only to approach our planet but also to cross Earth’s orbit.
Similar to the other asteroids that have wandered closer than the moon in recent weeks, 2019 VD is not a particularly hefty rock. Size-wise, the asteroid fares somewhat on the small side, boasting an estimated diameter of only up to 62.3 feet, per NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). According to NASA’s size estimate, the asteroid is even smaller than the famous 65.5-foot Chelyabinsk meteor that penetrated Earth’s atmosphere in 2013, exploding in the sky over Russia.
The space rock completes a full orbit around the sun in 1,477 days, or about four years. Interestingly enough, its upcoming flyby of Earth will be a momentous one for more than one reason. Aside from marking the second closest approach in NASA’s recent records, the close encounter will also be the first and last visit of Earth for asteroid 2019 VD. The rock has never passed through our corner of the solar system before, nor is it expected to return for the foreseeable future. The asteroid will embark on a trip through the outer solar system in 2043, swinging by Jupiter at a staggering 87.4 million miles from the gas giant.