NASA expects the asteroid to shoot past our home world just before 2am GMT (UTC) in the wee hours of Friday, March 21. The asteroid will skim the Earth closer than the Moon on a trajectory dubbed by NASA a “Close Earth Approach”. When this happens, NASA’s asteroid trackers believe the space rock will approach breakneck speeds of 5.37km per second or 12,012.45mph (19,3332kph). According to NASA’s asteroids experts at the California based Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) the asteroid was first encountered on March 9 this year.
NASA’s JPL has since made 135 observations to determine the asteroid’s size, speed and trajectory.
The space rock was dubbed Asteroid 2019 EA2 and was classified an Aten-type Near-Earth Object or NEO.
NEOs are all comets and asteroids on trajectories cutting into the Earth’s orbit of the Sun.
Occasionally, asteroids like EA2 come dangerously close to the planet but do not always strike the Earth.
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Tonight, the space rock will near-miss the Earth from an estimated distance of so-called 0.80 Lunar Distances (LD).
This is a distance of approximately 190,560 miles (306,675 km) or 80 percent of the Moon’s average distance from the Earth.
NASA further estimates EA2 measures somewhere in the range of 59ft to 134.5ft (18m to 41m) in diameter.
An asteroid this big is comparable in size to five London double-decker buses lined up in a row.
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Astronomer Eddie Irizarry of Astronomical Society of the Caribbean told EarthSky.org the space rock is roughly house-sized.
He said: “The space rock has an estimated size of 82ft (25m) in diameter, which means it’s slightly larger than the asteroid that penetrated the atmosphere over the skies of Chelyabinsk, Russia, on February 15, 2013.
“That asteroid – estimated to be 55ft (17m) in diameter – caused a shock wave that broke windows in six Russian cities and caused some 1,500 people to seek medical attention.
“2019 EA2 is an Aten type – or Earth-crossing – space rock. Its orbit brings it between the orbits of planets Venus and Earth.
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“This will be the closest approach of this particular asteroid for the next 112 years, as its next close encounter with our planet will occur on March 2131.”
NEOs like EA2 often cross Earth’s orbit of the Sun on numerous occasions as they themselves fly around the Sun for hundreds and thousands of years at a time.
According to NASA, EA2’s next approach will occur on February 8 and August 1 in 2022.
On July 16, 2039, the asteroid will also swing by the planet Venus.