Asteroid makes closest flyby of Earth on record at just 1,800 miles – and Nasa didn’t see it coming
AN ASTEROID the size of a car has zipped past Earth in what scientists say is the closest flyby on record.
Nasa has admitted it didn’t see the space rock coming ahead of a near-miss on Sunday that took it within 1,830 miles (2,950km) of our planet.
That’s more than 130 times closer to Earth than the Moon (230,000 miles), or less than the distance between Los Angeles and New York City (2,400 miles).
“The asteroid approached undetected from the direction of the Sun,” Nasa’s Dr Paul Chodas told Business Insider. “We didn’t see it coming.”
The Palomar Observatory in California first detected the rock, now known as 2020 QG, six hours after it flew over the southern Indian Ocean at 5:08am BST (12:08am ET) on August 16.
At between 6 feet (2m) and 18 feet (5.5m) wide – a little larger than the average sedan – the object posed no threat to Earth.
Asteroid 2020 QG came closer to Earth than any non-impacting asteroid on record[/caption]
If it had crossed paths with our planet, QG would have burned up harmlessly in the atmosphere.
The flyby has soared into the record books, however, beating the previous holder of 7,800 miles (12,600km) set in 2019, according to Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“It’s really cool to see a small asteroid come by this close, because we can see the Earth’s gravity dramatically bend its trajectory,” said Dr Chodas.
“Our calculations show that this asteroid got turned by 45 degrees or so as it swung by our planet.”
Nasa had admitted it did not see the asteroid coming[/caption]
Nasa constantly tracks asteroids and other “near-Earth objects” to watch for those on a collision course with our planet.
The space agency has been tasked with finding 90 per cent of rocks that pose a significant threat to Earth.
Those “killer” asteroids are typically 460 feet across (140m) or bigger and are easy to spot from a distance.
QG’s size and speed – roughly 27,000mph (43,000kph) – were calculated using images captured by the Zwicky Transient Facility at Palomar.
What’s the difference between an asteroid, meteor and comet?
- Asteroid: An asteroid is a small rocky body that orbits the Sun. Most are found in the asteroid belt (between Mars and Jupiter) but they can be found anywhere (including in a path that can impact Earth)
- Meteoroid: When two asteroids hit each other, the small chunks that break off are called meteoroids
- Meteor: If a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it begins to vapourise and then becomes a meteor. On Earth, it’ll look like a streak of light in the sky, because the rock is burning up
- Meteorite: If a meteoroid doesn’t vapourise completely and survives the trip through Earth’s atmosphere, it can land on the Earth. At that point, it becomes a meteorite
- Comet: Like asteroids, a comet orbits the Sun. However rather than being made mostly of rock, a comet contains lots of ice and gas, which can result in amazing tails forming behind them (thanks to the ice and dust vapourising)
The telescope constantly takes pictures of the night sky. Asteroids often form streaks across these images, which are then passed on to researchers.
Only a handful of asteroids of this size pass this close to Earth each year, Nasa said, and they’re extremely hard to detect.
“It’s quite an accomplishment to find these tiny close-in asteroids in the first place, because they pass by so fast,” Dr Chodas said.
“There’s typically only a short window of a couple of days before or after close approach when this small of an asteroid is close enough to Earth to be bright enough but not so close that it moves too fast in the sky to be detected by a telescope.”
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In other space news, Nasa recently snapped a stunning image of a 2,000-foot dust whirlwind raging across Mars.
Mars may have taken as long as 20million years to form, scientists now claim.
And, Nasa has revealed the design of a moon lander that could be taking astronauts back to the lunar surface by 2024.
What are your thoughts on our asteroid near-miss? Let us know in the comments…
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