An asteroid just zipped past Earth closer than the moon's orbit

A bus-sized asteroid made a harmless close pass by our planet on Sunday (Oct. 17).

Asteroid 2021 TG14 passed by Earth at a distance of roughly 155,000 miles (250,000 km). That's well within the orbit of our moon, which orbits at an average distance of nearly 239,000 miles (385,000 km).

NASA is always interested in close passes like this, just in case astronomers can get some valuable telescope time for a rare close-up glimpse of a small world. Asteroids are leftover fragments from the early solar system, when our neighborhood was a collection of icy and stony small objects (before the planets were formed).

NASA has freely posted all the orbital parameters of the object for the public to see. The agency's Planetary Defense Coordination Office works with other government agencies and a network of partner telescopes to keep an eye on potentially threatening objects, but this asteroid isn't one of them. Scientists have found no imminent threats to our planet.

Related: See the dramatic increase in near-Earth asteroids NASA has discovered (video)

Coincidentally, the approach is taking place as asteroids once again are hitting the news in both fact and fiction. Just on Saturday (Oct. 16), NASA launched its Lucy mission that will eventually focus on asteroids in Jupiter's orbit, known as Trojans. These asteroids have never been visited up close before.

The agency is also in the middle of an asteroid sample-return mission known as OSIRIS-REx (Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer). Its sample return capsule is due to come back to Earth in 2023 bearing bits of a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu. NASA's Psyche mission will also launch in 2022 to study a metal asteroid up close.

These new missions are only the latest in a long line of spacecraft that have swung by small bodies in our solar system, some picking up samples along the way.

In fiction, the Netflix dark comedy "Don't Look Up" will release in December, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. The film follows a long line of fictional movie asteroids threatening the Earth and catalogs some satirical responses by White House officials (and scientists) to the impending problem.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: