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CLOSE-CALL: NASA tracks closest asteroid flyby to Earth on record

An asteroid bigger than the Empire State Building is passing by Earth next week.
An asteroid bigger than the Empire State Building is passing by Earth next week.
Updated: Aug. 19, 2020 at 5:08 PM EDT
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(WIS) - Talk about a close-call. NASA is calling it the closest flyby of an asteroid on record; an SUV-sized space rock flew past our planet over the weekend.

The Near Earth Asteroid, or NEA, passed 1,830 miles above the Southern Indian Ocean around midnight (12:08am EST) Sunday morning.

"It's really cool to see a small asteroid come by this close, because we can see the Earth's gravity dramatically bend its trajectory," said Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "Our calculations show that this asteroid got turned by 45 degrees or so as it swung by our planet."

NASA named it asteroid “2020 QG.” The agency says the asteroid is small by normal standards, but measured in at roughly 10 to 20 feet across.

Astronauts say the asteroid was buzzing through outer space at nearly 29,000 miles per hour, or 8 miles per second.

NASA says if ’2020 QG’ was on a collision course for Earth, it would have likely become a fireball and break up in the Earth’s atmosphere; an event that happens several times a year.

How rare is such an event?

Experts estimate hundreds of millions of small asteroids the same size of ’2020 QG’ pass by the planet, but are usually at much safer distances -- farther away than the moon.

“There’s typically only a short window of a couple of days before or after close approach when this small of an asteroid is close enough to Earth to be bright enough, but not so close that it moves too fast in the sky to be detected by a telescope,” Chodas said.

Asteroid 2020 QG is one for the record books.

It ranks as the closest known non-impacting asteroid since NASA started tracking NEA’s back in 2005.

Congress assigned NASA the goal of finding 90% of NEA’s that are about 460 feet or larger in size because of their risk if they were to impact the Earth. NASA says these larger asteroids are more easily detectable from a farther distance from Earth because their rate of motion across the sky is typically much smaller at that distance.

A close-call, but certainly all the more reason to keep our eyes on the sky.

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