A small asteroid just gave Earth and some satellites a very close step


A small space rock about the size of a car or truck made a slightly intrusive but not very intimidating flyby on Monday. Asteroid 2021 GW4 came within 12,324 miles (19,833 kilometers) of the surface of Earth at its closest point of approach Monday morning Pacific time, according to Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell.

Asteroid 2021 GW4 passes within the GEO belt from 1146 UTC to 1416 UTC Apr 12. Perigee is 19833 km. Fortunately space is still rather empty at these altitudes – my estimate is that the closest approach to a tracked object is 1009 km to debris object S26918 pic.twitter.com/FJReTeK0ll From the lab to your inbox. Get the latest science stories from CNET every week.

“Fortunately space is still rather empty at these altitudes,” McDowell wrote on Twitter. He estimated that the nearest functioning satellite to the asteroid’s path was a military GPS satellite about 1,243 miles (2,000 kilometers) away.

That puts the asteroid well inside the ring where many large artificial satellites orbit Earth at an altitude of 22,236 miles (35,786 kilometers). — Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) April 12, 2021

2021 GW4 was originally spotted on April 8 by the Mt. Lemmon Survey in Arizona, another example of the improving ability of such surveys to spot even very small asteroids passing extremely close by. Often such space rocks are only discovered hours before their closest pass, or even when they are already in our planetary rear-view mirror. NASA estimates the asteroid’s diameter at between 11 and 25 feet (3.5 and 7.7 meters). That’s small enough that the entire thing would likely burn up if it collided with our atmosphere.

So far in 2021, only two asteroids have come closer to the surface of our planet. But just like the vast majority of all the objects in our immediate cosmic vicinity, none ever posed a real threat. Follow CNET’s 2021 Space Calendar to stay up to date with all the latest space news this year. You can even add it to your own Google Calendar.  

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