A huge mile-wide asteroid was just spotted narrowly missing Earth in these incredible photos

Yesterday, as the UK rose for another day of self-isolation, an enormous asteroid shot past Earth, missing our planet by around 3.9 million miles (which isn’t actually all that much, in space terms).

As if we don't have enough to be worrying about at the moment, right?

The asteroid, catchily named 52768 (1998 OR2), approached Earth at around 11am yesterday morning. It might seem like it wasn’t near us at all, but this distance is actually classed as a “close approach” by NASA.

The enormous asteroid is estimated to measure between 1.8km - 4.1km in diameter. To put that in perspective, that’s around five times as big as the world’s biggest building, the Burj Khalifa, or around one mile of your government-mandated jog.

Scientists from the Virtual Telescope Project in Rome hosted a live stream of the asteroid last night, showing the space rock as it flew through the night sky. Gian Masi, who presented the livestream, said:

We know where the asteroid is because we know its orbit. And this same orbit makes it possible for us to say ‘it will not hit us.’

Telescope images have captured the asteroid flying through the sky (it's the bright white blob, for the uninitiated)

(Live stream: Gian Masi)

NASA hasn’t ruled out the possibility that an asteroid might collide with Earth in future. They discover around 30 new ‘near-Earth objects’ (NEOs) every week, most of which are very small, but sometimes, like in this case, they’re much bigger.

Worryingly, though, NASA said it’s possible that an unpredicted impact could occur at any time.

They explained:

Experts estimate that an impact of an object the size of the one that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 – approximately 55 feet (17 meters) in size – takes place once or twice a century.

Impacts of larger objects are expected to be far less frequent (on the scale of centuries to millennia).

However, given the current incompleteness of the NEO catalogue, an unpredicted impact – such as the Chelyabinsk event – could occur at any time.


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