A massive asteroid larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza is on course for a close flyby of Earth next week, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced. The space rock is traveling at a break-neck speed of a little over 30,000 mph and will reach Earth’s proximity on Monday, November 18, when it will make a close, but perfectly safe approach to our planet. This will be the first time that the huge asteroid has visited Earth, per JPL data. The rock is not expected to return for the foreseeable future.
Monday’s celestial visitor is known as asteroid 2019 UR2. The giant space rock was discovered just last month and was picked up by NASA asteroid trackers on October 19. The rock orbits the sun once every 1,387 days, or nearly four years, and is currently embarking on its first-ever trip through our corner of the solar system. Based on its orbital path, the object was classified as an Apollo asteroid — a type of near-Earth asteroid that can not only approach our planet, but also cross Earth’s orbit.
Size-wise, the newfound space rock is quite impressive. According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), asteroid 2019 UR2 boasts a diameter ranging between 318 feet and 721 feet. At the upper end of that size estimate, the asteroid is nearly 1.6 times larger than the iconic Egyptian monument in Giza. Even at the lower end of NASA’s size estimate, the space rock is still pretty hefty, standing slightly taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York.
While a close encounter with an asteroid this large can certainly be daunting, NASA assures that there is no reason to panic. Over the last three weeks, NASA scientists have been attentively monitoring the wayfaring asteroid and taking numerous measurements of its position in the sky to calculate the rock’s orbit around the sun — and to plot its course through the inner solar system.
“Scientists determine the orbit of an asteroid by comparing measurements of its position as it moves across the sky to the predictions of a computer model of its orbit around the sun,” explains NASA.
“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.”
In the case of asteroid 2019 UR2, the JPL team used a total of 82 observations stretching over a period of 26 days. The data showed that asteroid 2019 UR2 poses no threat to Earth and its inhabitants, as the giant asteroid doesn’t run any risk of hitting our planet when it swings by for its close approach on Monday. In fact, the rock will pass at a safe distance from Earth, only coming as close as 4.2 million miles from the planet’s surface.
The huge asteroid is expected to swoop in for its close flyby of Earth in the early hours of Monday morning. The rock will reach its closest point to Earth at 1:58 a.m. ET, passing within just under 18 times the distance to the moon. After that, the asteroid will exit the inner solar system and continue its journey around the sun.