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Unknown Asteroid Buzzed Earth

Published by Matt on Tue Nov 10, 2009 11:12 am via: source
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Written by Nancy Atkinson

A previously undiscovered asteroid came within 14,000 km of Earth last week, and astronomers noticed it only 15 hours before closest approach. On Nov. 6 at around 16:30 EST a 7 meter asteroid, now called 2009 VA, came only about 2 Earth radii from impacting our home planet.

Asteroid. Credit: NASA

Asteroid. Credit: NASA

This is the third-closest known non-impacting Earth approach on record for a cataloged asteroid.

Early on Nov. 6 the asteroid was discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey and was quickly identified by the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge MA as an object that would soon pass very close to the Earth. JPL’s Near-Earth Object Program Office also computed an orbit solution for this object, and determined that it was not headed for an impact.

The two closer approaches include the 1-meter sized asteroid 2008 TS26, which passed within 6,150 km of the Earth’s surface on October 9, 2008, and the 7-meter sized asteroid 2004 FU162 that passed within 6,535 km on March 31, 2004. On average, objects the size of 2009 VA pass this close about twice per year and impact Earth about once every 5 years.

Trajectory of Asteroid 2009 VA Past Earth on November 6, 2009. Credit: NASA/JPL

Trajectory of Asteroid 2009 VA Past Earth on November 6, 2009. Credit: NASA/JPL

Only thirteen months ago, another asteroid, 2008 TC3 was discovered under similar circumstances, but that one was found to be on a trajectory headed for the Earth, with impact only about 11 hours away. It impacted in a remote area of Africa; no one was injured and fragments have since been recovered for study.

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