The weekend is fully packed with close asteroid encounters, according to NASA. Three space rocks are due to buzz Earth on Saturday, as previously covered by The Inquisitr. Two more asteroids will swing by our planet the following day, bumping up the number of close asteroid flybys to five.
The two space rocks expected to swing by on December 8 are both Apollo asteroids. As such, the objects follow orbital paths that not only allow them to approach our planet, but also to intersect Earth’s orbit.
The first one to traipse through our neck of the cosmic woods is a pyramid-sized asteroid known as 2019 VH5. The rock is estimated to be at least 187 feet across and can measure up to 426 feet in diameter, per NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). At the upper end of that size estimate, the asteroid is nearly as large as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt — and almost 1.4 times the size of the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Even at the lower end of NASA’s size estimate, the asteroid is big enough to pose some serious concern should it wander a little too close for comfort. Thankfully, that won’t be the case on Sunday, as NASA assures the large asteroid will safely pass by Earth as it journeys around the sun.
According to a report released today by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), asteroid 2019 VH5 orbits the sun once every 424 days, or a little over a year. As it does so, the Apollo asteroid — which was discovered nearly a month ago, on November 8 — often ventures through our corner of the solar system, making frequent passes by Venus, Earth, and Mars.
Based on the JPL’s calculations, once in a while, the rock performs a double flyby of Earth, swinging by for two separate visits in the span of a single year. Such was the case in 2006, when the asteroid shot past Earth in late February, and then again in mid-August. Its next double flyby will occur in 2035, bringing the rock through our cosmic neighborhood once in early April and then again in late July.
Sunday’s close approach will also be a momentous one for the wayfaring space rock. Its upcoming flyby is the closest one in 36 years for asteroid 2019 VH5. The rock will be coming in for its close encounter with Earth in the pre-dawn hours of the morning, zooming past us at 4:24 a.m. ET. At the time, the asteroid will be traveling at a cruising speed of a little over 21,800 mph, buzzing Earth from 4.2 million miles away. To put that into perspective, that’s almost 18 times the distance from the Earth to the moon.
The last time that asteroid 2019 VH5 flew so close to Earth was in 1983, when it passed within 3.9 million miles from the planet’s surface. The rock will swing by Mars in 2020 and return for another visit of Earth the following year, and then again in 2026 and 2028.
Asteroid 2019 VH5 will be followed by a considerably smaller space rock, due to dash by for a swift visit late in the night. Dubbed asteroid 2019 XY, the rock is believed to be only 49-feet wide at the most and will be making its close approach to Earth shortly before midnight, buzzing our planet at 11:54 p.m. ET. Unlike its predecessor, the asteroid will creep in a lot closer to Earth’s surface, whizzing by at 29,200 mph from a short distance of just 753,300 miles away — or a little over three times the lunar distance.
Before its close brush with Earth, asteroid 2019 XY will pass by the moon on another close encounter that will bring the rock some 809,100 miles from its cratered surface.
Interestingly enough, Sunday’s close approach will be the asteroid’s first-ever flyby of the Earth-moon system. JPL data shows that the rock completes a full orbit around the sun in a little over 1,100 days, or about three years. The object was picked up by NASA asteroid trackers two days ago, and won’t be returning to our corner of space for a very long time.
The tiny asteroid is expected to perform its second flyby of Earth almost 130 years from now — in late November, 2148. However, its next visit won’t bring it anywhere near as close to our planet, carrying the asteroid a staggering 19.3 million miles from Earth. Between now and then, the rock is scheduled to pass by Mars in 2050, and then again almost a century later — in early October, 2148.