Reports suggest that a whale-sized asteroid came several thousands of miles within Earth, narrowly missing our planet as it whizzed by in outer space. And while this close call took place almost one month ago, it’s only now that most of these reports have emerged, stating that NASA was only able to find out about the asteroid one day after the fact.
At the time the asteroid codenamed 2017 VL2 reached its closest point to Earth, it was flying only 73,000 miles within our planet as of the early morning of November 9. According to the Daily Mail, that’s only one-third of the distance separating Earth and the moon, which made its flyby a relatively close call. But it was only one day later when the asteroid was officially spotted at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii.
As noted by The Watchers, the whale-sized asteroid 2017 VL2 was the current year’s 48th asteroid on record to skim past Earth within one lunar distance. The object, which belongs to the Apollo asteroid group, was estimated to be about 52 to 105 feet (16 to 32 meters) in length, good enough to make it one of the seven largest asteroids to fly by our planet this year. Astronomers expect the asteroid to make its next close encounter with Earth no earlier than 2125.
Asteroid 2017 VL2 flew past Earth at 0.31 LD, a day before discovery https://t.co/8qJZuDLM98
— Astro Tweets (@NorfolkStarwatc) December 7, 2017
Some reports have claimed that 2017 VL2 would have been large enough to destroy New York or other big cities had it struck our planet, but these reports did not include any expert statements or figures to back up the speculation. Bended Reality, however, cited the Purdue University’s Impact Earth calculator, noting that such an impact would have hit with as much power as 220 kilotons of TNT, or 15 times stronger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.
Asteroid 2017 VL2 is not alone as one of the larger Apollo asteroids in outer space. At the present, there are more than 8,000 known Apollo asteroids, with about 1,500 of them being large enough and potentially capable of threatening Earth by getting close enough to it. According to the Daily Mail, all near Earth asteroids (NEOs) of this nature are closely being tracked by NASA, as the U.S. space agency hopes to avoid catastrophic impacts before they even happen.
While NASA apparently wasn’t able to learn about asteroid 2017 VL2 until the day after its flyby, the agency seems well-prepared for another large asteroid, 3200 Phaethon, which won’t even come as close as 2017 VL2 to crashing into our planet. According to Newsweek, this asteroid measures about three miles across, and orbits the sun once every 1.4 years, skimming Earth along the way. This year, 3200 Phaethon is expected to be about as close as 2 million miles away from Earth’s orbit when it is at its closest around mid-December.