Science and Nature

NASA sports a tiny asteroid; closest-ever seen passing Earth

NASA sports a tiny asteroid; closest-ever seen passing Earth thumbnail

By: Tech Desk |

Updated: August 20, 2020 8:12:37 am

A representation of the asteroid QG whizzing past Earth (Source: NASA)

Asteroid 2020 QG: National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) identified a tiny asteroid that on August 16 at 9:38 AM IST. The asteroid named 2020 QG passed 2,950 km above the southern Indian Ocean. According to NASA, it is the closest known non-impacting asteroid.

The asteroid was nearly the size of an SUV car as it was roughly 10 to 20 feet across. Even if the asteroid was on the trajectory to hit our planet, it was likely that it would not have had a major impact after becoming a fireball upon entering 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.”

According to Chodas, 2020 QG was first recorded just as a long streak in an image that was taken six hours after the closest point of approach. It was travelling at a speed of nearly 12.87km per second which is a little slower than the average speed. The image was taken using a wide-field camera at the Zwicky Transient Facility based at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in San Diego County.

“It’s quite an accomplishment to find these tiny close-in asteroids in the first place because they pass by so fast,” Chodas said. “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.”

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NASA was assigned the role to identify near-Earth asteroids (NEA) in 2005. These asteroids that are about 460 feet (140 meters) or larger in size pose a greater threat to Earth if they are in impact trajectory. However, the rate of their motion in the space is much smaller in distance enabling the scientists to detect them when they are much farther away from Earth. On the other hand, smaller NEAs are hard to detect until they come extremely close to Earth.

The 2020 QG was first recorded as just a long streak (Source: NASA)

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