A space rock known as 2020 VT4 had an extremely close approach to our planet on Friday 13. While the date is considered unlucky for some, Earth was fortunate this time. Observations showed that the asteroid flew by our planet at a distance of just 250 miles (400 kilometres).
By comparison, the Moon is an average of 238,855 miles away from Earth.
Astronomers missed the close approach of 2020 VT4, and the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) survey only spotted it as it was on its way away from our planet.
This is because it came from the ‘blind spot’ in astronomical terms, which is from the direction of the Sun.
As it was so close to our planet, astronomers stated that Earth’s gravitational pull changed the orbit of the asteroid.
Astronomer Tony Dunn said: “Newly-discovered asteroid A10sHcN approached Earth yesterday, passing only a few hundred miles above the South Pacific Ocean.
“This encounter shortened its orbit, ensuring that this Earth-crosser will make more frequent close approaches.”
The asteroid is only between five and 10 metres, so even if it had collided with our planet, it would have simply burned up in the atmosphere.
This is a record close approach for an asteroid, beating the previous record set earlier this year.
Asteroid 2020 QG, which is roughly the same size as a car, came within just 2,000 miles of our planet on August 16.
Neither asteroids pose any threat to Earth, but their discoveries, or lack of beforehand, shows that there is a need to keep eyes on the sky.
While the chances of a major asteroid hitting Earth are small – NASA believes there is a one in 300,000 chance every year that a space rock which could cause regional damage will hit – the devastating prospect is not impossible.
However, the close approaches give NASA an opportunity to study the history of the solar system.
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NASA said: “Near Earth objects (NEOs) are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood.
“The scientific interest in comets and asteroids is due largely to their status as the relatively unchanged remnant debris from the solar system formation process some 4.6 billion years ago.
“The giant outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) formed from an agglomeration of billions of comets and the leftover bits and pieces from this formation process are the comets we see today.
“Likewise, today’s asteroids are the bits and pieces leftover from the initial agglomeration of the inner planets that include Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.”
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