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Asteroid swoops past Earth just days after being discovered by Nasa

·2 min read
An artists conception of a near Earth asteroid (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
An artists conception of a near Earth asteroid (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

An asteroid has swooped past Earth – just days after it was first spotted.

The object, known as 2022 OE2, never posed any danger to Earth. It remained at a safe distance of 3.2 million miles away, more than 10 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

The rock is up to 380 meters wide, scientists said, and made its closest approach to Earth at 12.23am eastern time on Thursday morning.

It is one of around 15,000 Apollo-class asteroids. That means they are in orbit around the Sun in such a way that they cross over with our own orbit.

The object was only found on 26 July, less than two weeks before it made its closest path with Earth. While Nasa aims to spot and categorise all of what it calls near-Earth objects or NEOs, the vast expanse of space and the relatively small size of such asteroids can often make it difficult.

Today, Nasa tracks thousands of such NEOs. But many remain unknown: the space agency says that less than half of the 25,00 near-Earth objects that are 140 meters or larger have yet been found.

Nasa says that it is not aware of any asteroid that is due to make a dangerous collision with Earth in the next 100 years. The most hazardous object that it tracks is the asteroid Bennu – famous for being landed on by Nasa’s Osiris-Rex mission, which will bring back pieces of asteroid next year – and there is still only a 1-in-1,800 chance that it will hit Earth before 2290.

Experts are nonetheless concerned that humanity could be taken by surprise by a potentially hazardous asteroid, and Nasa and other space agencies have launched planetary protection programmes in an attempt to limit those risks.

They have included major space missions to test any possible response. At the end of September, for instance, Nasa’s Dart mission will crash into an asteroid – in a test that will be used to understand whether it might be possible to move the path of any hazardous object so that it would avoid our planet.