A massive asteroid the size of a football field whizzed past us in the early hours of April 15, in one of the scariest near misses in more than 15 years, Space.com reports.
The asteroid, dubbed 2018 GE3, was spotted less than a day before its close encounter with our planet, shows the Minor Planet Center of the International Astronomical Union.
With all the commotion going on over the weekend — as NASA prepared for the launch of its new planet-hunting satellite, Transiting Exoplanet Survey (TESS) — the U.S. space agency was taken completely by surprise and didn’t even realize 2018 GED was coming.
The giant asteroid was sighted a mere 21 hours before its closest approach to Earth by the Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson. Astronomers at the NASA-sponsored program first locked eyes on 2018 GE3 on Saturday (April 14) at 5:23 a.m. EDT (09:23 GMT).
Almost a day later, asteroid 2018 GE3 came whizzing by at about half the distance between Earth and the moon, notes Fox News.
Its closest approach to our planet occurred at around 2:41 a.m. EDT (06:41 GMT) on Sunday when the asteroid came just 192,000 kilometers (119,500 miles) away from Earth’s atmosphere.
The last time a giant asteroid swept by within half the lunar distance was in 2002, reports CNET, when asteroid 2002 MN missed Earth by just 120,000 kilometers (74,564 miles) on June 14.
According to ScienceAlert, 2018 GE3 buzzed by at a speed of 106,000 kilometers per hour (66,000 miles per hour) and would have caused some serious damage had it collided with our planet.
The sheer size of 2018 GE3, estimated to be 3.6 times larger than the Tunguska asteroid that wreaked havoc in 1809 when it exploded over Siberia in Russia, was enough to pose a genuine threat.
The newfound asteroid was estimated to be 48 to 110 meters (157 to 360 feet) in diameter. That’s about three to six times wider than the space rock that penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere in 2013 and exploded over the city of Chelyabinsk in Russia, packing 20 to 30 times the energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, notes EarthSky.
“If 2018 GE3 had hit Earth, it would have caused regional, not global, damage, and might have disintegrated in the atmosphere before reaching the ground,” Spaceweather.com explained in a Facebook post.
“Nevertheless, it is a significant asteroid, illustrating how even large space rocks can still take us by surprise,” the media outlet pointed out.
Last month, NASA almost missed another very close encounter with asteroid 2018 DV1, which was detected only five days before it zoomed past us on March 2. The asteroid, though significantly smaller in size than 2018 GE3, came even closer than last Sunday’s surprise flyby, soaring past our planet at less than one-third of the distance between the Earth and the moon.