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A car-sized asteroid made the closest Earth flyby a space rock has ever survived

A newly discovered car-sized asteroid just made the closest-known flyby to Earth without hitting our planet.

On Sunday (Aug. 16), the asteroid, initially labeled ZTF0DxQ and now formally known to astronomers as 2020 QG, swooped by Earth at a mere 1,830 miles (2,950 kilometers) away. That gives 2020 QG the title of closest asteroid flyby ever recorded that didn't end with the space rock's demise. 

It's the closest known, non-impacting asteroid, NASA officials told Space.com

Video: See asteroid 2020 QG's orbit around the sun!
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Potentially dangerous asteroids (images)

The car-sized asteroid 2020 QG made the closest Earth flyby ever recorded on Aug. 16, 2020.  (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The flyby wasn't expected and took many by surprise. In fact, the Palomar Observatory didn't detect the zooming asteroid until about six hours after the object's closest approach. "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."

Related: Famous asteroid flybys and close calls (infographic)

"Yesterday's close approach is [the] closest on record," Chodas told Business Insider. "If you discount a few known asteroids that have actually impacted our planet."

The close flyby was also a fast one, as 2020 QG swooped near Earth at a blistering 27,600 mph (44,400 kph). The object is about the size of a compact car, perhaps about 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 meters) in diameter. 

According to the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, 2020 QG flew over the Pacific Ocean, far east of Australia, during its close approach. To explore the daredevil asteroid for yourself, you can check out NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's small-body database browser here

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  • JPL-ACE
    I guess the distance reported is to the surface of the Earth. Earth being about 4000 mi in radious. It seems od that is the closest "miss" ever recorded. The astroid that lit up Russia a few years ago hit the atmosphere and that is only about 60 miles high. Would be cool to see one cut it that close (but no closer).
    Reply
  • Wolfshadw
    JPL-ACE said:
    I guess the distance reported is to the surface of the Earth. Earth being about 4000 mi in radious. It seems od that is the closest "miss" ever recorded. The astroid that lit up Russia a few years ago hit the atmosphere and that is only about 60 miles high. Would be cool to see one cut it that close (but no closer).

    I think that if they get much closer than that (not sure how close), they get caught in Earth's gravity and are pulled in. I don't know any of the math, but I'm sure angle of approach as well as velocity play into whether it misses or gets caught.

    -Wolf sends
    Reply
  • ardallas
    The article title sounds cool, but is inaccurate. Earth-grazing meteors are well documented, and are surely "space rocks".
    Reply
  • rod
    2020 QG. the orbital elements can be found here for this object. https://www.minorplanetcenter.net/mpec/K20/K20Q51.html
    Semi-major axis is 1.9138 AU, e = 0.487, period = 2.68 years. The asteroid perihelion distance is near 0.99 AU.
    Reply
  • newtons_laws
    ardallas said:
    The article title sounds cool, but is inaccurate. Earth-grazing meteors are well documented, and are surely "space rocks".
    Correct, there is film footage of at least one space rock partially entering the Earth's atmosphere causing a grazing fireball which then ceased as the rock skipped back out of the atmosphere e.g the daylight fireball of 1972 a few frames of which were caught on a cine camera: 4WlCfuPrszUView: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WlCfuPrszU
    Reply
  • Helio
    Wolfshadow said:
    I think that if they get much closer than that (not sure how close), they get caught in Earth's gravity and are pulled in. I don't know any of the math, but I'm sure angle of approach as well as velocity play into whether it misses or gets caught.
    Yes angle and velocity are likely huge factors.

    I would assume the closest fly-bys would be those that skip off the atmosphere. The Shuttle needed about a 40 deg. approach angle to avoid skipping off, IIRC. Perhaps asteroids are less aerodynamic, but even a round rock would skip off water if thrown fast enough and low enough.
    Reply
  • RichardMathews
    ardallas said:
    The article title sounds cool, but is inaccurate. Earth-grazing meteors are well documented, and are surely "space rocks".
    Eight earth grazers are listed here.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth-grazing_fireball
    Reply
  • timofeysie
    newtons_laws said:
    Correct, there is film footage of at least one space rock partially entering the Earth's atmosphere causing a grazing fireball which then ceased as the rock skipped back out of the atmosphere e.g the daylight fireball of 1972 a few frames of which were caught on a cine camera: 4WlCfuPrszUView: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WlCfuPrszU

    I was thinking the same thing. US19720810 "1972 Great Daylight Fireball" was a lot closer. This might even be the same rock, that might have been here again in 1997. But why does the news reports keep saying that 2020 QG was the closest ever?
    Reply
  • newtons_laws
    timofeysie said:
    I was thinking the same thing. US19720810 "1972 Great Daylight Fireball" was a lot closer. This might even be the same rock, that might have been here again in 1997. But why does the news reports keep saying that 2020 QG was the closest ever?
    Because the writer of the article isn't as well informed as we are..... ;)
    Reply
  • Brookeok
    newtons_laws said:
    Correct, there is film footage of at least one space rock partially entering the Earth's atmosphere causing a grazing fireball which then ceased as the rock skipped back out of the atmosphere e.g the daylight fireball of 1972 a few frames of which were caught on a cine camera: 4WlCfuPrszUView: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WlCfuPrszU
    I was curious about that very incident too. I wrote NASA and was informed that the 72 fireball was considered an impact since it did interact with the atmosphere. Even so, it did survive it's interaction so their qualification was not entirely accurate. I was surprised that no one mentioned that incident at all since both objects were similar in size.
    Reply