A tiny swarm of asteroids will come waltzing through our neck of the cosmic woods this weekend, as planet Earth is in for a series of close encounters on Saturday. Three space rocks are due to cruise by Earth tomorrow, in a multi-asteroid flyby that will bring one of the objects as close as 1.3 million miles from our planet's surface. The three objects will swing by at different times throughout the day, each of them making an individual close approach rather than buzzing our planet as a group. The rocks couldn't be more different from one another, as they vary in speed, size, and moment of discovery. However, these objects do share a common trait, as all of them are classified as Apollo-type asteroids.
The first one to make the trip through our corner of the solar system on December 21 is a 128-foot asteroid known as 2019 YM. The rock was discovered merely a day ago and is the smallest and fastest of the bunch. According to a report released yesterday by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the tiny asteroid orbits the sun once every 1,157 days, or 3.1 years, and is currently embarked on its second-ever flyby of Earth. The rock previously visited our planet in early December 2015, when it came within 17.1 million miles of the terrestrial surface. The object will creep in a lot closer to Earth tomorrow, marking the closest approach of the day.
The newfound space rock is expected to swing by in the early hours of the morning, reaching its closest point to Earth at 4:12 a.m. EST. The asteroid will safely hurtle past us at speeds of a little over 38,300 mph, flying as close as 5.5 times the distance between our planet and the moon.
After tomorrow's close brush with Earth, it will be quite sometime before the rock returns to our corner of space. The asteroid will pass by Jupiter in 2021 as it treks the outer solar system and won't double back until nearly four decades after, in 2058. Its next flyby of Earth will bring the rock only 7.1 million miles from our planet.
A little over 10 hours after asteroid 2019 YM darts past us on Saturday, a slightly larger Apollo asteroid will cruise by Earth in what will be the slowest and farthest approach of the day. Our second celestial visitor is called 2013 XY20 and is estimated to be about 154 feet wide. The space rock will gracefully float by at a speed of just 4,272 mph, or 5.5 times the speed of sound, reaching Earth's vicinity at 2:35 p.m. EST. As it does so, the object will come within 4.3 million miles of our planet, or 18.2 times the distance to the moon.
As its name suggests, this second celestial interloper has been on NASA's radar for quite some time. Asteroid 2013 XY20 was discovered six years ago, about three weeks before it swung by Earth in mid-December 2013. This Apollo asteroid circles the sun once every 439 days, or 1.2 years, frequently passing by our planet as it journeys around the giant star. Sometimes, the rock swings by on consecutive years; other times, it leaves a six-year gap between its visits.
NASA predicts that the asteroid will double back in six years' time, making its next flyby of Earth in 2025. After that, the rock will return in 2026.
The third and final close encounter of the day will get planet Earth re-acquainted with another frequent traveler through our cosmic neighborhood -- a 213-foot Apollo asteroid dubbed 2017 XQ60. The rock was first spotted two years ago, exactly one week before it buzzed Earth on December 21, 2017. The asteroid is gearing up for yet another December 21 close approach and will pop by in the late hours of the evening, flying past us at 9:10 p.m. EST. At the time, the rock will be some 2.6 million miles from Earth, or 11 times the lunar distance, cruising through space at a velocity of 19,800 mph.
JPL data shows that the asteroid, which is the heftiest of the group, takes around a year to complete a full orbit around the sun. The rock has been buzzing Earth on a yearly basis since 2001 and will continue its annual flybys up until the year 2037.
The multi-asteroid flyby comes hot on the heels of another close approach that occurred this morning, when planet Earth was visited by a massive 1,771-foot Apollo asteroid, as previously covered by The Inquisitr.