NASA Missed ‘Closest-Ever’ Asteroid Passing Earth Last Weekend
An asteroid passed extremely close to Earth last weekend and nobody saw it coming – not even NASA.
The asteroid, which was the size of a car, flew within 1,830 miles of us on Sunday, August 16. That might not sound that close, considering it’s around the same distance from England to Ukraine, but in the grand scheme of things – when you take into account just how huge the universe is – trust me when I say it was bloody close.
So close, in fact, that of any asteroid that’s ever passed by Earth, this one was actually the closest one recorded, according to asteroid trackers and a catalogue compiled by Sormano Astronomical Observatory in Italy.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at this diagram of the asteroid, released by the Minor Planet Center, with the green line showing its location:
Luckily, because of the asteroid’s size, it most likely wouldn’t have posed any real danger to us if it had struck our planet, because it probably would have exploded in the atmosphere too high up to do any damage on the ground.
But that doesn’t mean the asteroid isn’t a cause for concern, particularly because astronomers had no idea it existed until after it passed by, highlighting a major blind spot in Earth’s programs to search for such space rocks.
In fact, scientists didn’t spot the asteroid, called 2020 QG, until a whole six hours after its close approach, with NASA-funded program the Palomar Observatory eventually detecting it.
‘The asteroid approached undetected from the direction of the sun,’ Paul Chodas, the director of NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies, told Business Insider. ‘We didn’t see it coming.’
Chodas went on to confirm the record-breaking nature of the event, adding:
Yesterday’s close approach is [the] closest on record, if you discount a few known asteroids that have actually impacted our planet.
News of the near-miss first began circulating yesterday, when Tony Dunn, the creator of the website orbitsimulator.com, shared an animation of 2020 QG’s orbital path as it passed by Earth at a speed of around 27,600mph.
‘Newly-discovered asteroid ZTF0DxQ passed less than 1/4 Earth diameter yesterday, making it the closest-known flyby that didn’t hit our planet,’ Dunn tweeted alongside the animation on Monday, August 17.
Early observations suggest the asteroid flew over the Southern Hemisphere just after 4am Universal Time (midnight ET) on Sunday, August 16.
NASA is currently in the process of developing a space telescope that could detect asteroids and comets coming from the direction of the sun, in order to address gaps such as this one in its asteroid-hunting program.
The agency’s 2020 budget allocated nearly $36 million for the telescope, named the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission, and if funding continues it could launch as early as 2025.
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