NASA reports an “SUV-sized” space rock came closer to the Earth last weekend than any other Near Earth Asteroid approach in recorded history.
The rock passed 1,830 miles (2,950 kilometers) above the southern Indian Ocean on Saturday, Aug. 15 at 9:08 p.m. (Sunday, Aug. 16 at 12:08 a.m. EDT).
NEAs are nothing new, passing the Earth all the time. This particular asteroid, labeled 2020 QG, is 10 to 20 feet across, considered small. But had hit the Earth, NASA-JPL indicates it “would likely have become a fireball as it broke up in Earth’s atmosphere.”
“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.”
The asteroid, 2020 QG, was recorded moving at almost 8 miles per second (12.3 kilometers per second), considered a little slower than average, Chodas said.
The 2020 QG was initially recorded as a long streak in a wide-field camera image taken by the Zwicky Transient Facility. The image was taken six hours after the closest point of approach as the asteroid was heading away from Earth.
A sky-scanning survey telescope funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA, the Zwicky Transient Facility is based at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in San Diego County. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program funds data processing for NEO detections.