March 22 is shaping up to be a busy day for close asteroid encounters. A 183-foot space rock is slated to shoot past Earth on Sunday afternoon and will fly very close to the planet’s surface, NASA has announced. The rock will be followed by a smaller asteroid later in the evening, one which will skim past the Earth while coming within 437,100 miles of the planet, as was covered by The Inquisitr.
The larger of the two rocks to visit Earth tomorrow is known as asteroid 2020 DP4, and is expected to swing by our planet at 3:34 Eastern. NASA predicts that the space rock will come within 837,000 miles of Earth, according to a report released yesterday by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). To put that into perspective, the moon sits at an average distance of about 238,900 miles from Earth.
The space rock is traveling at a speed of just over 18,100 mph relative to Earth. Several hours after its close brush with our planet, the object will make a quick trip by the moon, zooming past the lunar surface one minute before midnight. The asteroid will approach the moon from a comparable distance, safely passing by Earth and its natural satellite.
NASA states that tomorrow’s flyby will be completely uneventful, as asteroid 2020 DP4 poses no threat to our planet. The space rock — which was discovered on February 27 — has been carefully monitored for the past three weeks, as scientists aimed to determine its orbit and calculate how close it would pass to Earth. Per the JPL report, NASA has made 108 observations of the asteroid’s position across the sky in order to trace out its orbital path and plot its course through the solar system. The data also enabled scientists to pinpoint the dates of its past and future flybys of Earth.
Based on its orbital path, 2020 DP4 was classified as an Apollo-type asteroid, meaning that it can not only approach Earth, but also cross the planet’s orbit. The rock circles the sun once every 1.35 years or so, often passing by Earth — and, occasionally, by Mars — as it orbits the giant star.
Interestingly enough, tomorrow’s flyby of Earth will be the closest one of all time for the 183-foot asteroid, as shown by the projected historical data. In the past, the space rock typically buzzed our planet from tens of millions of miles away. Such was the case of its double flyby in 2009 — when the rock flew past Earth both in early January and in mid-August — as well as during its previous approaches in 2001 and 1994. Its closest encounter with Earth until now occurred more than 30 years ago, in 1986, when the asteroid managed to creep within 1.5 million miles of our planet.
The rock will return on October 5, making 2020 another two-flyby year. Its next trip through our neck of the cosmic woods will bring it a staggering 39.2 million miles from Earth. The asteroid will pop by Mars in November and then disappear for a few years, only to resurface in 2024. The year 2028 will bring another double flyby of Earth, but the rock won’t come nearly as close to our planet as it will tomorrow.