On Friday, a tiny asteroid will pass extremely close to the Earth, marking a record-close approach so far for the month of December. The intrepid asteroid will swing by Earth bright and early in the morning, creeping in within a few hundred miles from the planet's surface. While a close brush with an asteroid of any size can certainly be daunting, the upcoming flyby is nothing to worry about. NASA assures that the inbound asteroid poses no threat to Earth and its inhabitants and will harmlessly hurtle past us as it circles the sun, never to return again.
According to a report released yesterday by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Friday's celestial visitor is dubbed 2019 XN. The rock nearly slipped past NASA's radar, as it was picked up by asteroid trackers only yesterday -- just three days before its close flyby of Earth. The object orbits the sun once every 1,455 days, or nearly four years, and has never before passed through our corner of the solar system.
Its first and only visit will certainly be a memorable one, as it will bring the asteroid a mere 575,600 miles from Earth. Cruising at speeds of nearly 21,750 mph, the space rock will skim the planet at 6:48 a.m. ET on December 6, passing by at just 2.43 times the distance to the moon.
As far as near-Earth asteroids go, 2019 XN is not the heftiest to traipse through our cosmic neighborhood. Data from NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) places the rock within a size range estimated between 25.9 feet and 59 feet in diameter. The object is only slightly larger than the 42-foot Apollo asteroid that scraped past Earth on November 30, buzzing the planet from just 95,300 miles away.
Just like its smaller predecessor, 2019 XN is also classified as an Apollo-type asteroid. Named after asteroid 1862 Apollo, a nearly mile-wide space rock that orbits the sun once every 651 days, objects of this class follow orbital paths that not only allow them to approach Earth but also to cross the planet's surface. As such, Apollo asteroids are labeled as "Earth-crossing" and vastly differ from Amor asteroids, which approach the planet but never intersect Earth's orbit.
About eight hours before its close encounter with planet Earth, asteroid 2019 XN will swing by the moon for a swift flyby of our natural satellite. The space rock will zoom past the moon at 10.31 p.m. ET tonight, barreling past the lunar surface from just under 670,000 miles away.
The small asteroid will be followed by a much larger space rock later on the same day. On Friday afternoon, a 560-foot Apollo asteroid is due to pass within 3.3 million miles of Earth, as recently reported by The Inquisitr.