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Asteroid Barely Missed Earth When It Flew By Closer Than The Moon On Monday

10 January 2017, 6:59 am EST By Allan Adamson Tech Times
An asteroid about the same size as the Chelyabinsk meteor flew by Earth at a proximity equivalent to about half the distance between our planet and the moon. The space rock was discovered only two days before it whizzed by.  ( NOAA | Getty Images )

An asteroid flew by relatively close to Earth on Monday morning.

Data from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) revealed that the space rock made its closest approach to our planet about 7:50 a.m. EST at a time when people at the U.S. east coast were busy making coffee, or preparing themselves for work and school.

Discovered Only Days Before The Flyby

Dubbed 2017 AG3, the near-Earth object (NEO) came close to our planet flying at a proximity equivalent to about half the distance between the Earth and the moon at a speed of 9.9 miles per second.

"This is moving very quickly, very nearby to us," Slooh astronomer Eric Feldman said during a live broadcast of the flyby. "It actually crosses the orbits of two planets, Venus and Earth."

While astronomers have been aware of other space rocks approaching Earth, they did not see this one coming until two days before the flyby. The space rock was discovered only on Saturday by the Catalina Sky Survey of the University of Arizona.

About The Same Size As The Asteroid That Struck Chelyabinsk In Russia

Initial observations of the NEO show that it would take about 347 Earth days for this object to circle the sun.

The asteroid that flew by was roughly the same size as the asteroid that struck Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013. Astronomers estimate the size of the space rock to be between 36 and 111 feet. For perspective, the space rock that exploded over Chelyabinsk is believed to measure about 65 feet.

What Could Have Happened If Asteroid 2017 AG3 Entered The Earth's Atmosphere?

Meteors the size of 2017 AG3 often burn up in the atmosphere but depending on the angle of its entry, some amount of the burning hot debris can make it through which could possibly injure people and damage properties just as the Chelyabinsk meteor did.

The Chelyabinsk meteor exploded in an airburst equivalent to about 30 times the power of the Hiroshima atomic bomb explosion. The shockwave injured more than 1,600 people.

Had 2017 AG3 plowed into the Earth's atmosphere, the asteroid-impact simulator Impact Earth! of Purdue University hinted that it would have also exploded as an air burst. Although the air burst would be 30 times as powerful as the atomic bomb explosion at Hiroshima, most people on the ground would be safe because it would occur at about 10 miles high.

No Danger Of Collision With Giant Asteroid In The Foreseeable Future

Unexpected asteroid flybys such as this one are far from unprecedented. Millions of asteroids are believed to cruise through the space in our planet's neighborhood. Of these, 15,000 have already been detected to date.

Scientists though acknowledge the dangers that space rocks pose. The extinction of the prehistoric dinosaurs is after all largely blamed on a giant asteroid that struck Earth in ancient times.

The vast majority of the behemoth space rocks, which are capable of causing global damage if they were to collide with Earth though are believed to have already been discovered. NASA researchers, said that none of these poses threat in the foreseeable future.

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