Asteroid alert: Two tiny Apollo asteroids to (safely) fly past Earth on 29-30 August

The asteroid pairing belongs to a larger Apollo family of asteroids whose orbit intersects with that of Earth's.


Two asteroids are expected to approach and zip past Earth without raining doom on humanity this Friday, 30 August, according to the US space agency NASA. The pair of space rocks belong to the larger Apollo family of asteroids whose orbit intersects with that of Earth's.

The first of the two asteroids, 2019 QR3, is currently moving at a speed of 41,100 kilometres per hour, according to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). 2019 QR3 is roughly 75 feet wide, as wide as two telephone poles stacked end-to-end. CNEOS predicted that the asteroid will enter Earth’s neighbourhood on 30 August at 1.47 pm IST (3.47 am EDT), remaining roughly 2.09 million kilometres away from the Earth's centre.

2019 QR3 was first observed on 27 August and isn't expected to return to Earth’s vicinity till 14 January 2060, according to CNEOS, when the asteroid is expected to zip past Earth from 60 million kilometres away.

The second asteroid in the pair, called 2019 QU4, is also an Apollo asteroid. Currently flying at speeds of 30,200 kilometres per hour, the asteroid is 210 feet wide, which is thrice the length of a cricket pitch. 2019 QU4 is on its way towards Earth and due to make its close encounter on Saturday, 31 August at 4.17 am (Friday, 30 August at 6.47 pm EDT).

Unlike 2019 QR3, 2019 QU4 will be twice as close, just 1.7 million kilometres away from Earth's centre at its closest. First observed on 28 August, the next near-Earth approach it is expected to make will be more than a decade from now, on 28 July 2031.

Much like other Apollo asteroids, 2019 QR3 and 2019 QU4, too, have very wide orbits around the Sun and Earth. Their paths intersect with Earth's own orbit around the Sun from time-to-time, leading to these close encounters.

(Also read: Neil deGrasse Tyson warns that America could sink from an asteroid impact in 2036)

(Also read: Elon Musk tweets yet another asteroid warning — NASA maintains that it's no threat)