An asteroid bigger than the Eiffel Tower hurtled past Earth early on Saturday at a speed of 10,400 miles per hour, missing us by 4.6 million miles — not quite a close shave, but not so far in astronomical terms.
Had the fast-moving space rock, dubbed 2006 QQ23, been following a different trajectory, it could have slammed into our planet with an explosive force of up to 500 times that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. To be clear, this happens a lot. Plenty of orbital objects follow a trajectory that is hard to track, and many are invisible until the celestial objects are close, and even more are invisible until they’ve passed. Basically, if an objects geometry is directly in-line or obfuscated by solar activity, it flies invisible. This is because our largest array of telescopes are on Earth. From the ground, we can only track asteroids, and other celestial bodies at night. We are at the whims of third-dimensional space. Space telescopes however, do not have this problem.
The most notable and well-known photographed object to enter Earth’s atmosphere was last seen in Chelyabinsk, Russia. It was a superbolide, sized at around 20m. It produced a very large flash and vapor trail:
For comparison, the Tunguska Event was likely caused by a 65m meteoroid. The asteroid that missed us is called 2006 QQ23. The diameter of 2006 QQ23 is approximately 250–570m. A collision with that type of orbiter would level a large city and decimate the surrounding area — devastation never before seen.
It and others like it, are called Aten asteroids. To be brief, this means the asteroid follows an arc that crosses Earth’s orbit within close proximity. It is only luck that keeps life afloat on Earth. The universe we live in is very efficient at extinguishing life. We should all be thankful and celebrate this meteoroid missed us… this time.