Next week, planet Earth will be buzzed by a relatively large asteroid due to make its closest approach to our planet in eight-and-a-half decades.
Known as asteroid 2019 XB, the space rock is almost as big as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and stands taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York. Data from NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) indicates that the object boasts a maximum estimated diameter of 360 feet. This would make it nearly 1.2 times the size of the iconic American landmark.
Cruising through the void of space at speeds of more than 17,700 mph, or 23 times the speed of sound, the formidable chunk of rock will reach Earth's vicinity on Monday morning. The asteroid will make its swift approach to our planet in the early pre-dawn hours, reaching its closest point to Earth at 5:05 a.m. ET. At the time, the near-Earth asteroid will pass some 4.1 million miles from the planet's surface. To put that into perspective, that's nearly 17.3 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), it's been a long time since asteroid 2019 XB has ventured this close to our planet. The last time the rock buzzed Earth from a comparable distance was 85 years ago, in late December 1934. At the time, the asteroid managed to creep in within 3.6 million miles of Earth. The next time the rock will pay us such a close visit will be 26 years from now, in late December 2045, when the asteroid is expected to come within 4.5 million miles of Earth's surface.
The wayfaring asteroid is a frequent traveler through our neck of the cosmic woods. The rock completes a full orbit around the sun in 226 days, or a little more than half a year, and often passes by Mercury, Venus, and Earth as it circles the giant star. Its flybys of our planet occur almost on a yearly basis. As such, JPL has been keeping a close eye on the sizeable asteroid ever since it was first discovered on November 15.
As it journeys around the sun, the rock follows an orbital path consistent with that of Aten-type asteroids. Named after the gargantuan asteroid 2062 Aten, a massive 2,950-foot rock that orbits the sun once every 347 days, asteroids of this class not only approach our planet, but can also cross its orbit -- and actually spend most of their time inside Earth's orbit.
The 360-foot rock will be coming back for another visit in 2022, and then again in 2024 and 2027. In the meantime, the asteroid will shoot past Mercury in 2020 and 2023.
Its Monday flyby will come just two days after a smaller, 154-foot Aten asteroid swings by Earth on Saturday.