Science

An asteroid passed the Earth closer than the orbit of the Moon

A bus-sized asteroid made a harmless pass near our planet on Sunday (October 17).

Asteroid 2021 TG14 passed Earth at a distance of approximately 155,000 miles (250,000 km). That’s well within the orbit of our moon, which orbits at an average distance of almost 239,000 miles (385,000 km).

NASA is always interested in close passes like this, just in case astronomers can get some valuable telescope time to get a close look at a small world. Asteroids are scraps left over from the early solar system, when our neighborhood was a collection of small, icy, stony objects (before planets formed).

NASA has released all of the object’s orbital parameters free for the public to see. The agency’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office works with other government agencies and a network of associated telescopes to monitor potentially threatening objects, but this asteroid is not one of them. Scientists have found no imminent threats to our planet.

Related: See the Dramatic Rise in Near-Earth Asteroids NASA Has Discovered (Video)

Coincidentally, the rapprochement is occurring as asteroids reappear in the news in both reality and fiction. Just on Saturday (October 16), NASA launched its Lucy mission that will eventually target asteroids in orbit of Jupiter, known as Trojans. These asteroids have never been closely visited before.

The agency is also in the middle of an asteroid sample return mission known as OSIRIS-REx (Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer). Its sample return capsule is due to return to Earth in 2023 with fragments from a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu. NASA’s Psyche mission will also launch in 2022 to closely study a metallic asteroid.

These new missions are just the latest in a long line of spacecraft that have passed small bodies in our solar system, some collecting samples along the way.

In fiction, the Netflix black comedy “Don’t Look Up” will premiere in December, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. The film follows a long list of fictional asteroids that threaten the Earth and catalogs some satirical responses from White House officials (and scientists) to the impending problem.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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