2019 TA7: This 111 Foot-wide Asteroid Just Made Its Closest Approach to Earth in 115 Years

An asteroid passed by Earth last night in what was the object's closest approach in more than a century.

The space rock, known as 2019 TA7, safely flew by our planet, at a distance of around 930,000 miles at 6:53 p.m. EDT on Monday, according to NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS.) This is about four times the distance from the Earth to the moon.

This is the space rock's closest approach since 1904, when it skimmed past the Earth at a distance of 1.8 million miles, according to figures from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

During yesterday's approach, the space rock—which is estimated to measure between 49 and 111 feet in diameter—was travelling at speeds of around 23,700 miles per hour relative to the Earth.

2019 TA7 recently made another close approach to Earth just a few months ago in June although it was much further away, flying past at a distance of roughly 41 million miles away. Its next close approach to our planet will take place in October 2021, when it will likely be around 14.6 million miles away.

Astronomers describe any comet or asteroid, like 2019 TA7, whose orbit around the sun takes it within 121 million miles of the star, and 30 million miles of Earth, as a "near-Earth object" (NEO.)

At the moment, scientists have identified more than 20,000 NEOs—the vast majority of which are asteroids—and new ones are being discovered at a rate of about 30 per week.

Around 5,000 of these NEOs are classified as "potentially hazardous." While the description may sound scary, all this means is that they are predicted to have a minimum approach distance of of less than 0.05 astronomical units (4,647,790 miles) and thought to measure more than 460 feet in diameter based on their observed magnitude.

Currently, we don't know of any potentially hazardous objects which have a significant chance of hitting Earth in the next century—although the odds are that a collision will occur at one point in the future.

One of the objects that scientists are keeping a close eye on, even though it only has a tiny chance of striking Earth in the next two centuries, is the asteroid Bennu, which is currently being visited by the OSIRIS-REx.

Right now, it has a one-in-a-few thousand chance of striking our planet, although these odds are expected to drop to zero as more data about its trajectory is collected, CNEOS Manager Paul Chodas previously told Newsweek.

Despite the fact that we are not currently aware of any major threat from space, this hasn't stopped experts preparing for the worst, however. After all, a large asteroid impact could cause global devastation, as occurred when a space rock hit the planet around 66 million years ago, helping to wipe out the dinosaurs.

NASA and the European Space Agency, for example, are collaborating on an ambitious mission to deflect an asteroid in space. The Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA) is designed to demonstrate that such a technique could work if we need to protect our planet from a collision with a large space object.

The target of AIDA is the potentially hazardous double asteroid called Didymos which orbits the sun between the paths of Earth and Mars.

Stock photo: Artist's rendering of an asteroid. iStock