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A small, car-sized asteroid just gave Earth a close shave

A newly spotted asteroid about the size of a car flew harmlessly past Earth this morning (April 12).

Astronomers calculated the asteroid, dubbed 2021 GW4, to be about 14 feet (4 meters) across — much too small to survive a journey through Earth's atmosphere if it were ever on course to collide with our planet, according to NASA.

But at its closest, at about 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT), the asteroid was about 16,300 miles (26,200 kilometers) away from Earth — less than one-tenth the distance between the Earth and the moon, and quite close as far as asteroid approaches go. The average distance between the Earth and moon is about 238,855 miles (384,400 km).

Video: See the dramatic increase in near-Earth asteroids found by NASA

An image of asteroid 2021 GW4 taken on April 12 as the object was nearing its closest approach to Earth. (Image credit: Gianluca Masi/Virtual Telescope Project)

Today's visit is as close as the asteroid will come for the next century, according to early NASA calculations of the object's orbit, a nearly two-year loop around the sun.

2021 GW4 was first spotted on April 8 by astronomers at Mt. Lemmon Survey, which is part of a high-powered asteroid discovery project called the Catalina Sky Survey, which has already identified more than 500 asteroids this year, according to NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies.

To date, NASA has identified more than 25,500 near-Earth asteroids, most of which are too small to pose any threat to Earth. Their discoveries are simply bonuses as scientists carefully search for larger space rocks.

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Meghan Bartels
SPACE.COM SENIOR WRITER — Meghan is a science journalist based in New York City. She joined Space.com in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.

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