- A small asteroid made a very narrow passage through Earth recently and was not detected until it had already passed.
- The asteroid known as 2020 VT4 flew from Earth just 240 kilometers away.
- It was closer to Earth with many man-made satellites in its flight, as well as the International Space Station.
Our solar system is full of stones. We live in one of them right now, in fact, but most of the rocks in our small star neighborhood are much smaller. The asteroid now known as 2020 VT4 is one of these rocks, and it has appeared very close to Earth.
The asteroid is relatively small, measuring between 5 and 10 meters in diameter, but the amazing passage of our planet was enough for astronomers to pause. The space rock passed just 240 kilometers from the surface. Yes, you read that right. Because the rock was so close to our planet, it arrived not only well in the orbit of the Moon, but also in the orbit of some man-made satellites.
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Our planet was launched at such a close distance by the asteroid that the International Space Station was also farther away from the rock at its closest approach. The spacecraft made its way through November 13, and while it may endanger satellites orbiting our planet, it doesn’t appear to have done any damage and passed safely.
2020 VT4 set a new record for the nearest asteroid passages, closer to any space rock that entered the Earth’s atmosphere and became a meteor. As might be expected, the rock caused the Earth’s narrow passage to be quite dramatic. Based on rock observations after passing through Earth, the gravity of our planet changed the trajectory of space rock and reduced the period of orbit centered on the Sun by about 1.5 years and 0.86 years on Earth.
ATLAS discovers asteroid 2020 VT4, a 5-10 meter asteroid that passed 240 kilometers from Earth’s surfacehttps: //t.co/QaDGnYKITPhttps: //t.co/0c0XUJAiDF
– ATLAS project (@fallingstarIfA) November 16, 2020
This tends to be concerned with asteroids that make Earth almost empty. Avoiding collisions is great, but if an asteroid passes close enough without hitting Earth, its future can be much more unpredictable, forcing scientists to reconsider their path to projecting whether or not there will be rock danger in the future.
What’s scary about the 2020 VT4 is that it wasn’t detected until before the Earth passed in advance. Because of the proximity, colliding with a satellite or (much worse) the International Space Station would have been a disaster. The small size of the asteroid and others like it make it difficult to detect in advance, so in this case, we seem to be lucky in our favor.
As observational technology becomes more advanced, astronomers are able to detect smaller and smaller rocks in space and predict their trajectories with greater accuracy. In the future, space rocks like the 2020 VT4 could be well detected before they can fly.