A small newfound asteroid gave Earth a close shave today (April 28) on the event of another flyby by a much larger space rock, according to NASA.
The asteroid, called 2020 HS7, is between 13 and 24 feet (4 to 8 meters) in size and passed Earth at a distance of 23,000 miles (36,400 kilometers) when it made its closest approach at 2:51 p.m. EDT (1851 GMT). That range is close to the orbits of some geosynchronous satellites about 22,000 miles (36,000 km) above Earth.
While that sounds close, there was never any risk to our planet, NASA officials said.
"Small asteroids like 2020 HS7 safely pass by Earth a few times per month," NASA's Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson, the program executive for the Planetary Defense Coordination Office at agency's Washington, D.C. headquarters, said in a statement. "It poses no threat to our planet, and even if it were on a collision path with Earth it is small enough that it would be disintegrated by our Earth's atmosphere."
Asteroid 2020 HS7's flyby comes just one day before the close approach of a much bigger space rock: the asteroid 1998 OR2. That space rock will pass Earth early Wednesday, April 29, at 5:55 a.m. EDT (0955 GMT).
With a diameter of about 1.5 miles (2 km), asteroid 1998 OR2 is much larger than 2020 HS7, but it's also passing Earth at a much greater distance -- about 3.9 million miles (6.9 million km). That's about 16 times the distance between the Earth and the moon (about 239,000 miles, or 385,000 km).
Despite its size, asteroid 1998 OR2 is too small and dim to be seen with the unaided eye. But you can see it through telescopes tonight thanks to a webcast from Slooh.com.
The webcast, which you can also see here courtesy of Slooh, begins at 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) and will last an hour.
Scientists at NASA and around the world regularly track asteroids that come close to the Earth in order to identify ones that might one day endanger our planet. These so-called "near-Earth objects" are ones that approach within 4.6 million miles (7.5 million km).
To date, astronomers have discovered 22,776 near-Earth objects, and new ones are being found at a rate of 30 each day, NASA officials said. More than 95% of those objects were found through NASA-funded surveys, they added.
- Mile-long asteroid 1998 OR2 dons 'mask' before Earth flyby (photos)
- About 17,000 big near-earth asteroids remain undetected
- Huge asteroid will zip by Earth April 29. See the latest telescope photos.