An asteroid is skimming past Earth! This phrase may make you think of an unrealistic sci-fi movie, but in reality, this is what happened this February 9, 2018, at around 2:30 pm Pacific Standard Time or 5:30 Eastern Standard Time.
Asteroids, along with comets, are considered remnants from the giant cloud of gas and dust that condensed to create the sun, planets, and moons some 4.5 billion years ago. Today, most asteroids which are nothing but chunks of rock, orbit the sun in a tightly packed belt located between Mars and Jupiter. According to scientists, these rocks could not come together to form a planet due to Jupiter's strong gravity.
While most asteroids are restricted to the belt, a few zip through our solar system -- sometimes too close to Earth for comfort. These are known as Near-Earth asteroids. The smaller ones that enter our Earth's atmosphere are known as meteorites.
The harmless asteroid whizzed past a mere 238,855 miles (384,400 km) away from Earth, which is less than twenty percent of the distance from Earth to the moon! The asteroid was approximated to be 40 meters, or about 131 feet wide, which is small in comparison to other asteroids that have skimmed Earth in the past. It was first spotted by the Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Arizona, which is a Nasa project that tracks potentially dangerous space objects.
Asteroids can be hard to track due to their small size, lack of light, and quick speed. But don’t worry: countries around the world have telescopes tracking space objects around the clock. Thankfully there are no upcoming threats and you can see all of NASA’s asteroid findings online at the Small-Body Database Browser!