A huge, pyramid-sized asteroid -- one believed to measure as much as 492 feet in diameter -- is headed for Earth and will swing by for a close but perfectly safe encounter later tonight, NASA has announced.
Tonight's celestial visitor is known as asteroid 2019 VF1. The formidable space rock is expected to approach Earth in the late hours of the evening, reaching its closest point to our planet at 11:04 p.m. EST. At the time, the space rock will be traveling at a breakneck speed of 38,500 mph -- or more than 60 times faster than a Boeing 747 jet, per RT. While a close encounter with an asteroid of this size can certainly be harrowing, NASA assures there's no cause for alarm. The large chunk of rock will only approach within 3.1 million miles of Earth's surface -- or a little over 13 times the distance to the moon.
According to a report released earlier today by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), asteroid 2019 VF1 was discovered at the beginning of the month, on November 1. The rock circles the sun once every 1.7 years, occasionally cruising by Earth as it treks the inner solar system.
Over the past 23 days, NASA scientists have taken careful measurements of its position in the sky in order to calculate the object's orbit and plot its course through the solar system. The JPL team has performed a total of 79 observations of the sizeable space rock -- the last one of which was carried out today -- in order to determine its orbital path as it passes by Earth. The data predicted that the large asteroid poses no threat of hitting our planet and will harmlessly fly past Earth in its journey around the sun.
"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," explains NASA.
Based on its orbital path around the sun, the near-Earth object was classified as an Apollo-type asteroid. This means that the rock follows an orbit that allows it not only to approach Earth but to also intersect -- or cross -- the orbit of our planet. For this reason, Apollo asteroids such as 2019 VF1 are labeled as "Earth-crossing."
Size-wise, the asteroid is quite impressive. At nearly 500-feet-wide, the rock is about 1.6 times bigger than the Statue of Liberty in New York -- and is even larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. However, the huge object doesn't hold a candle to the colossal 2,000-foot space rock that shot past Earth last week.
Interestingly enough, tonight's flyby will be the closest that asteroid 2019 VF1 will get to Earth in over half a century. The last time that the rock approached at a comparable distance to our planet was in 1964 when it buzzed Earth from 1.9 million miles away.
The object will return for its next visit six years from now -- in early June 2025. However, its next flyby will only bring it a staggering 14.4 million miles from Earth. In fact, it will be a long time before the rock passes this close to Earth again. The next time that asteroid 2019 VF1 will wander within 3 million miles of our planet will be 171 years from now, in 2190.