Known as asteroid 2019 XF, the formidable rock is hurtling through the void of space at phenomenal speeds of nearly 54,000 mph and will arrive in our planet’s vicinity late at night on December 17. The sizeable asteroid is expected to reach its closest point to Earth at 11:13 p.m. ET. However, NASA assures that the upcoming flyby will be perfectly safe, as the rock will only come within a safe distance of 2.2 million miles from the planet’s surface. To put that into perspective, that’s 9.3 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
Interestingly enough, tomorrow’s flyby will be the closest encounter with Earth in the last 11 years for 2019 XF. According to a report released earlier today by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the object often passes by Earth as it orbits the sun once every 573 days, or a little over a year-and-a-half. The large asteroid also swings by Venus and Mercury as it treks the inner solar system, making frequent flybys of the three planets.
The rock previously visited Earth in 2018, when it buzzed the planet from a staggering 31 million miles. However, the last time it approached at such at a close distance was in 2008, when its flyby of Earth brought it some 1.8 million miles from the planet’s surface.
Asteroid 2019 XF has not been on NASA’s radar for too long. The object was discovered just three weeks ago, on November 25, and has been constantly studied as scientists aimed to gauge its orbit and calculate its trajectory through the solar system. The JPL team performed a series of 40 observations to measure the asteroid’s position as it moved across the sky and corroborated the data with computer simulations of its orbital path for maximum accuracy. The study allowed the team to calculate the rock’s future approaches to Earth and to pinpoint the dates of its past flybys.
Based on its orbital path, the object was classified as an Apollo-type asteroid. This means that the rock can not only approach Earth but also cross the planet’s orbit.
The asteroid is among the larger rocks to traipse through our cosmic neighborhood in recent weeks. 2019 XF is estimated to measure at least 193 feet in diameter and is believed to be up to 426-feet across. At the upper end of that size estimate, the rock is nearly as large as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and is almost 1.4 times the size of the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Its upcoming flyby occurs just nine days after another 426-foot-wide Apollo asteroid shot past Earth at a distance of 4.2 million miles. The rock will swing by Venus in 2021 and return for its next visit of Earth in 2029, and then again in 2030 and 2040.