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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

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for Space.com who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.