Tomorrow morning, a relatively sizable asteroid will come flying through the Earth-moon system, getting extremely close both to our planet and the lunar surface, NASA has announced. Known as 2019 WB7, the celestial interloper will scrape past Earth at a velocity of 15,300 mph, or nearly 20 times the speed of sound. The space rock will buzz our planet from just under three times the distance to the moon, then swing by Earth's natural satellite for another close approach that will bring it just a few hundred miles from its cratered surface.
The wayfaring asteroid is expected to approach our planet in the late hours of the morning, reaching its closest point to Earth at 10:39 a.m. ET. At the time, the rock will be flying some 669,600 miles from the terrestrial surface. To put that into perspective, the moon sits at an average distance of about 238,900 miles from Earth. As such, the asteroid will pass at around 2.8 times the distance to the moon when it comes dashing by tomorrow.
About four hours later, the rock will swoop in for its close flyby of the moon, skimming its rocky terrain from only 539,400 miles away.
Interestingly enough, tomorrow's close approach won't be the asteroid's first trip through our cosmic neighborhood this year. The rock just visited Earth a mere three months ago, on September 1. However, its previous flyby was nowhere near as close as its upcoming one, as the asteroid only managed to get within 26 million miles of Earth earlier this year.
The wayfaring space rock is actually a quite frequent traveler through our corner of space. The asteroid circles the sun once every 264 days, often passing by Earth and Venus as it treks the inner solar system on its orbit around the giant star.
The object was discovered a little over three weeks ago, on November 28. Ever since then, NASA has kept a close eye on asteroid 2019 WB7 -- both due to its size and proximity to Earth. The near-Earth asteroid is estimated to be at least 105 feet wide and can measure up to 236 feet in diameter. At the upper end of that size estimate, the rock is 3.6 times the size of the famous Chelyabinsk meteor that penetrated Earth's atmosphere in 2013, exploding in the sky over Russia. Even at the lower end of NASA's size estimate, the asteroid is still quite massive compared with the 65.5-foot meteor, which wreaked havoc in the city of Chelyabinsk, destroying more than 7,200 buildings and injuring 1,500 people.
Unlike the tiny meteor, asteroid 2019 WB7 will harmlessly sail past us during tomorrow's close flyby. NASA has carefully studied the rock's orbital path and assures that the asteroid will pass at a safe distance from Earth, without posing any kind of threat to our planet. The rock follows an orbital path consistent with that of Aten asteroids -- a class of space rocks that can not only approach Earth but also cross the planet's orbit, spending most of their time inside Earth's orbit.
Asteroid 2019 WB7 will be followed by another, much larger Aten asteroid -- a colossal 2,034-foot behemoth due to zoom past Earth shortly after Christmas day.