Friday, April 24 is shaping up to be a busy day for close asteroid encounters, as two space rocks are due to swing by Earth. The two asteroids were both discovered less than a week ago and were classified as Apollo-type asteroids, meaning they have the potential to not only approach Earth, but also to cross the planet’s orbit.
Despite the shared similarities, the rocks are very different from one another, as one is a huge, pyramid-sized asteroid measuring up to 754.5 feet in diameter, while the other is 10 times smaller. The space rocks are traveling at different speeds and will cruise by Earth about one hour apart, approaching at different distances. According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the two flybys will be perfectly safe and won’t pose any cause for concern, despite one of the rocks passing extremely close to the planet’s surface.
The first one to shoot past will be the large, 754-foot asteroid, which will fly some 3.3 million miles from the planet — or nearly 14 times the distance between the Earth and the moon. The object is known as asteroid 2020 HW3 and is the faster of the two, shrieking across space at phenomenal speeds of more than 62,700 mph. The rock — which is big enough to potentially dwarf the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt — is expected to reach its closest point to Earth at 2:29 p.m. ET.
The close encounter will be 2020 HW3’s first-ever trip to Earth’s celestial neighborhood, as detailed in a report published on Friday by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The asteroid — which was first detected by the space agency on April 20 — was found to circle the sun once every 1.2 years. After studying its orbital path, NASA scientists were able to pinpoint the dates of its future flybys and announced it will return October 2021. However, that flyby will carry it significantly farther away from Earth, as NASA predicts the asteroid will only come a staggering 34.1 million miles from the planet. Over the next century, the rock will perform a series of flybys of Venus, never venturing to this corner of space again.
The second celestial visitor of the day is a tiny asteroid dubbed 2020 HX3. The rock is no more than 72 feet wide and will skim Earth closer than the moon, scraping past the planet’s surface from just 148,800 miles away. By comparison, the moon sits at an average distance of about 238,900 miles from Earth. That means the asteroid will come within 0.66 times the lunar distance when it swoops by.
The rock will quietly pass by Earth at 3:38 p.m. ET, approaching the planet at a speed of just over 33,700 mph relative to Earth. Later tonight, the asteroid will make a quick, even closer pass by the moon, flying some 102,300 miles from its cratered surface about an hour before midnight.
These flybys will be closest so far for the swift asteroid, which is a frequent traveler through this neck of the cosmic woods. A separate report issued on Friday by the JPL showed that 2020 HX3 orbits the sun every year, often passing by Earth and Venus as it treks the inner solar system. The rock previously visited Earth last April, when it buzzed the planet from 42.8 million miles away. The asteroid will double back for another visit next March — and every year for the next three years — coming around for double flybys in 2021 and 2023. After that, it will disappear for eight years, resuming its yearly flybys in 2031.