The space rock missed Earth by 3.1 million miles.
A rather sizeable asteroid, one believed to measure as much as 184 feet in diameter, darted past Earth earlier today, coming within a few million miles of the planet’s surface. Known as asteroid 2019 QE1, the space rock was only discovered a mere two weeks ago and has just performed its first-ever flyby of Earth.
According to NASA’s (JPL), 2019 QE1 was originally picked up by asteroid trackers on August 22. Coincidentally, the asteroid was first spotted several hours after another, much smaller space rock passed extremely close to Earth, creeping in between Earth and the moon, as reported by at the time.
Since the moment of its discovery, asteroid 2019 QE1 has been attentively monitored by the JPL. After gauging out its orbital path around the sun, NASA scientists were able to plot the rock’s course through the inner solar system, labeling the celestial body as a near-Earth object (NEO).
As explains, NEOs are celestial objects, such as comets or asteroids, that orbit somewhere between approximately 91 million and 121 million miles from the sun. This means that in their journey around the sun, NEOs can venture as far as about 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit, and as close to the planet’s surface as a few times the distance to the moon – or even closer.
The interesting thing about 2019 QE1 is that the rock is what scientists describe as an Apollo-type asteroid. This particular classification is closely linked to the asteroid’s orbit and signifies that the rock has the potential of being “Earth-crossing.” Named after asteroid 1862 Apollo, asteroids of this class zip around the solar system on an orbital path that occasionally allows them to cross Earth’s orbit, points out.
While the asteroid’s orbit is certainly of interest, as it dictates how close the rock can get to Earth, its size also merits investigation. And, as far as NEOs go, asteroid 2019 QE1 is not the heftiest celestial body to wander through our corner of space. The object doesn’t hold a candle to the massive 1,214-foot potentially dangerous asteroid due to pass by Earth on September 6, as previously covered by . However, it is still larger than some of the NEOs which have traipsed through our cosmic neighborhood in recent weeks.
Data from NASA’s (CNEOS) indicates that the asteroid is at least 82 feet wide and can be up to 183.7 feet across. The size estimate places 2019 QE1 somewhat on the smaller side compared to some of the massive asteroids that have flown past Earth in the last couple of months. Nevertheless, the space rock is still large enough to be monitored by the JPL.
Asteroid 2019 QE1 swooped in for its close approach to Earth in the late hours of the afternoon. Barreling through space at nearly 15,000 mph, the rock shot past Earth at 5:39 p.m. ET on September 5, passing at a safe distance of 3.1 million miles from the planet’s surface. To put that into perspective, that’s a little over 13 times the distance to the moon.
Interestingly enough, this was the asteroid’s first-ever trip through our corner of the solar system. The rock won’t return for a long time, wandering the void of space for more than 80 years before it will cruise by Earth again in 2105.