Asteroid news: ‘Near-Earth’ rock just came closer than the Moon

Asteroid 2020 RF3 flew within one lunar distance – the distance between the Earth and the Moon – making it the 61st asteroid to do so this year. Astronomers only discovered the asteroid on September 12, 2020, shortly before it made its close approach last night.

The space rock, which was found by astronomers using the PAN-STARRS telescope in Hawaii, came within just 0.24 lunar distances, or 92,000 kilometres, of Earth.

Asteroid RF3 is a small space rock with an estimated diameter between 5.3 and 12 metres.

The asteroid belongs to the Aten group of space rocks, which are asteroids which have an orbit with a close proximity to Earth.

According to NASA, there are more than 1,100 Aten asteroids in the solar system.

However, most Aten asteroids pose no threat to Earth and this one is no different.

Even if the asteroid was 12 metres in diameter, it would have burned up in the atmosphere if it had collided with our planet.

However, NASA designated the asteroid as an Near Earth Object (NEO), which allows the space agency to study it.

NASA said: “NEOs are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood.

“The scientific interest in comets and asteroids is due largely to their status as the relatively unchanged remnant debris from the solar system formation process some 4.6 billion years ago.

“The giant outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) formed from an agglomeration of billions of comets and the left over bits and pieces from this formation process are the comets we see today.

“Likewise, today’s asteroids are the bits and pieces left over from the initial agglomeration of the inner planets that include Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.”

This is the second asteroid in less than a month that NASA has failed to spot until the last minute.

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At the end of August, asteroid 2020 QG, which is roughly the same size as a car, came within just 2,000 miles of our planet, making it the closest passing asteroid that experts are aware of.

However, it was not until it had made its way past Earth that experts became aware of it.

Paul Chodas, the director of NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies, told Business Insider: “The asteroid approached undetected from the direction of the sun. We didn’t see it coming.

“Yesterday’s close approach is closest on record, if you discount a few known asteroids that have actually impacted our planet.”

As it made its way by our planet, it got tugged by Earth’s gravitational pull. According to NASA, the asteroid’s trajectory changed by 45 degrees, meaning its journey through the cosmos has been changed for good.

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