Asteroid skimmed past Earth on Friday 13th but wasn’t spotted until next day

Asteroid 2020 VT4 passed by the Earth as close as the International Space Station

Adam Smith
Friday 04 December 2020 16:21 GMT
Meteor captured from CSIRO Research Vessel
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A low-flying asteroid missed the Earth by only a few hundred miles on Friday the 13th – and was not noticed until the next day.

The asteroid, called 2020 VT4, was spotted 15 hours later by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System survey at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

It passed by our planet under 400 kilometers (240 miles) away, which is approximately the same distance that the International Space Station orbits Earth.

As such, asteroid- 2020 VT4 sets the record for the closest recorded non-meteroric asteroid pass of the Earth.

It was approximately six meters in diameter, flying over the South Pacific Ocean. Its encounter with the Earth “shortened its orbit, ensuring that this Earth-crosser will make more frequent close approaches”, Tony Dunn, who runs the website Orbit Simulator, tweeted

Should the asteroid have stuck the Earth, it would have burned up in its atmosphere leaving a meteoric trail behind it. Nasa says that it would require an asteroid larger than 25 meters but smaller than one kilometre to do local damage to the Earth.

However, an asteroid larger than one to two kilometres could have worldwide effects.

The record for an asteroid passing closest to the Earth was already broken once this year.

Asteroid 2020 QG came just 1,830 miles over the southern Indian Ocean on Sunday, according to Zwicky Transient Facility, a robotic camera that scans the sky in search of space phenomena.

That asteroid was also particularly small – approximately three to six meters across, which is roughly the size of a large car.

An object of that size passes close by the Earth approximately every year, but spotting them is challenging. Space agencies such as Nasa need to track these objects in case they come close enough to put the Earth in danger.

Asteroid- 2020 VT4 is also not the only space debris to pass by the Earth on a particularly unlucky day.

One asteroid, called Apophis, is approximately 300 meters in size making it comparable to the Eiffel Tower.

It is expected to pass close by the Earth on Friday the 13th, 2029, before returning again in 2068.

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