Surprise! Unknown Asteroid Buzzed Earth

by Nancy Atkinson on November 9, 2009

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


A previously undiscovered asteroid came within 14,000 km (8,700 miles) 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. 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.
asteroid
The two closer approaches include the 1-meter sized asteroid 2008 TS26, which passed within 6,150 km (3,800 miles) of the Earth’s surface on October 9, 2008, and the 7-meter sized asteroid 2004 FU162 that passed within 6,535 km (4,060 miles) 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.

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.

Source: JPL NEO office

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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