A swarm of four asteroids is due to pass by Earth tomorrow in a series of close approaches that will bring one of these space rocks within 1.1 million miles from our planet, NASA has announced. While that may seem like a vast distance by terrestrial standards, it only represents less than five times the distance between Earth and the moon. As such, our planet is in for quite a few close visits from cosmic interlopers on December 9, as Monday is shaping up to be a busy day for asteroid encounters.
The first one to traipse through our cosmic neighborhood tomorrow is a 360-foot asteroid called 2019 XB. The rock is an Aten-type asteroid, meaning that it spends most of its time in relative close quarters with Earth, dwelling within the planet's orbit. As The Inquisitr previously reported, the asteroid will buzz Earth early in the morning at 5:05 a.m. ET, shooting past us at speeds of more than 17,700 mph.
Notably, 2019 XB is the largest of the four asteroids gearing up to swing by Earth tomorrow. The rock will approach our planet from a distance of 4.1 million miles away, or a little over 17 times the distance to the moon, on what is expected to be its closest flyby in 85 years.
About three hours later, Earth will be visited by a much smaller asteroid known as 2019 WT3. According to NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the rock is estimated to measure 220 feet in diameter at the most. Based on its orbital path, the object fits the bill as an Apollo-type asteroid. This means that the rock can not only approach Earth, but also cross the planet's orbit in a similar way to Aten asteroids.
The 220-foot space rock will be making its close pass by Earth just in time for the morning coffee, reaching its closest point to our planet at 8:19 a.m. ET. At the time, the asteroid will be traveling at speeds of nearly 24,700 mph. Unlike its predecessor, the swift space rock will creep in a lot closer to the planet's surface, coming in within 2.3 million miles of Earth. To put that into perspective, that's just under 10 times the distance to the moon.
A recent report issued by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory detailed that asteroid 2019 WT3 was discovered not long ago, in late November. The rock orbits the sun once every 664 days, or 1.8 years, and is currently embarked on its second — and closest-ever —flyby of Earth. The asteroid previously visited our planet more than a century ago, in 1908, when it buzzed Earth from 14.6 million miles away. The object will return for two more flybys — one next year and the other one more than 100 years after, in 2129. However, its future visits will only bring it within a staggering 36 million miles and 19.3 million miles of Earth, respectively.
Later during the day, planet Earth will get acquainted with another Apollo asteroid due to pass a lot closer to the terrestrial surface. This third celestial visitor is dubbed 2019 WO2 and will be the one to mark the closest asteroid approach of the day. The rock will swing by Earth in the afternoon, cruising by at 1:47 a.m. ET at a breezy pace.
The rock is not only the closest, but also the smallest and slowest of the group. It boasts a maximum diameter of 174 feet and travels though the void of space at speeds of only up to 16.800 mph.
JPL data shows that this particular Apollo asteroid takes about 2.6 years, or 962 days, to circle the sun. The rock will be performing its first-ever flyby of Earth on Monday and is not expected to return for the foreseeable future, making tomorrow's encounter a unique occurrence.
Tomorrow's multi-asteroid flyby will be concluded with a visit from a 324-foot Apollo asteroid known as 2019 XW. The relatively sizeable space rock will swoop in for its close approach late in the evening, speeding past us at 10:35 p.m. ET. The object will be hurtling by at break-neck speeds of almost 35,000 mph, breaking the record for fastest asteroid approach of the day. In terms of distance, the rock will wander as close as 2.5 million miles, or nearly 11 times the lunar distance.
Interestingly enough, asteroid 2019 XW was discovered only a few days ago, on December 3. The rock completes a full orbit around the sun in 524 days, or less than 1.5 years. After studying its orbital path, JPL scientists were able to pinpoint the dates of all of the asteroids past and future approaches to Earth. The data revealed that tomorrow's visit will be its closest flyby in eight decades.
In the past, the asteroid has visited Earth only a handful of times, most recently in 2017. Its last trip through our corner of the solar system only brought the rock within 43.8 million miles of Earth. After tomorrow's close encounter, the object will swing by the planet Venus in 2021 and return for another flyby of Earth in 2047.