Closest-ever asteroid to pass Earth and not hit it just squeaked by

This illustration depicts an asteroid, though not the one that squeezed by Earth on Aug. 16. NASA/JPL-CalTech We’ve gotten pretty good at spotting worrisome asteroids and tracking their paths. But sometimes the little ones sneak by, like asteroid 2020 QG did on Sunday. The European Space Agency (ESA) NEO Coordination […]

This illustration depicts an asteroid, though not the one that squeezed by Earth on Aug. 16.


NASA/JPL-CalTech

We’ve gotten pretty good at spotting worrisome asteroids and tracking their paths. But sometimes the little ones sneak by, like asteroid 2020 QG did on Sunday.

The European Space Agency (ESA) NEO Coordination Centre, which monitors near-Earth objects, called 2020 QG “the closest asteroid ever observed to pass by our planet without hitting it” in a statement on Tuesday.

The asteroid snuggled up to Earth on Aug. 16, which was the same day it was first spotted by the Zwicky Transient Facility, an astronomical survey that looks out for these sorts of things. 

Two observatories that work with ESA’s Planetary Defence Office collected follow-up data

We now know the asteroid missed Earth by a mere 1,860 miles (3,000 kilometers). Compare that to the notably close flyby of asteroid 2020 JJ back in May. JJ came within 4,350 miles (7,000 kilometers) of Earth.

A visualization of 2020 QG’s path shows it squeezing past our planet.

This visualization tracks the path of asteroid 2020 QG as it passed Earth.


ESA NEO Coordination Centre

ESA said the asteroid was small, measuring in at just a few meters across. That scientists spotted it at all shows that our ability to locate and track near-Earth objects is getting more sophisticated.  

The asteroid’s dainty size means it wasn’t a serious threat, even if it had veered into the atmosphere. “Had it hit the Earth, it would not have caused any significant damage on the ground,” ESA said. 

Now you can breathe your sigh of relief.  

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