Next Friday, Earth will be visited by a rather sizeable asteroid, one due to pass extremely close to the planet's surface. The intrepid space rock is dubbed asteroid 2019 UM12 and has never wandered through our corner of the solar system before. Its first-ever trip through our cosmic neighborhood will bring it nearly as close as the moon -- and will see the rock buzz Earth from only 267,900 miles away, NASA has announced.
By comparison, the average distance between Earth and the moon is about 238,900 miles. As such, the asteroid will pass within 1.27 times the lunar distance when it comes swinging by Earth on November 8.
As far as size is concerned, asteroid 2019 UM12 is among the larger space rocks that have zipped past Earth in the last couple of weeks. The asteroid is estimated to be at least 101 feet across and can measure up to 230 feet in diameter, according to NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). At the upper end of that size estimate, the rock is 3.7 times bigger than the fast-zipping 62-foot asteroid expected to skim Earth from less than half the distance to the moon on November 4. However, even at 230-feet-wide, the near-Earth asteroid pales in comparison to the massive 1,476-foot space rock that shot past Earth on November 3 at a distance of roughly 3 million miles.
The wayfaring space rock will swoop in for its close approach to Earth around noon. The rock is expected to reach its closest point to our planet at 12:40 p.m. ET, when it will zoom past Earth at a break-neck speed of a little over 30,700 mph. Before its close brush with Earth, the asteroid will pop by the moon for another close encounter, passing within 195,300 miles of its crater-pockmarked surface in the pre-dawn hours of Friday morning.
The interesting thing about asteroid 2019 UM12 is that it is "Earth-crossing." The rock orbits the sun once every 1,166 days, or a little over three years, and follows an orbital path similar to that of asteroid 1862 Apollo. As such, the rock was classified as an Apollo-type asteroid -- a class of near-Earth asteroids that not only approach our planet, but also can potentially intersect, or cross, Earth's orbit.
The space rock was only recently discovered, being picked up by NASA asteroid trackers less than two weeks ago, on October 24. Since then, the space agency has been keeping a close eye on the near-Earth asteroid, monitoring its position across the sky to calculate its orbit. The observations revealed that the asteroid poses no threat to Earth, despite passing at such a close distance from the planet's surface. NASA assures that the rock will harmlessly fly past us on November 8, exiting the inner solar system never to return again.