House-size Asteroid Buzzes Earth Day After Its Discovery

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An asteroid the size of a house zoomed by Earth March 16, flying within the orbit of the Moon just one day after astronomers first spotted the space rock, NASA said.

The small asteroid 2011 EB74 was about 14 meters across and posed no threat of hitting Earth, since it was too small to survive the trip through the planet’s atmosphere.

Instead, the asteroid passed Earth at a distance of about 327,000 kilometers when it made its closest approach at 5:49 p.m. EDT, NASA officials said.

For comparison, the average distance between the Earth and the Moon is about 382,900 kilometers. The flyby of 2011 EB74 is about 0.85 Earth-Moon distances, officials said.

Astronomers discovered asteroid 2011 EB74 March 15 as part of the ongoing Catalina Sky Survey, a project based at the University of Arizona to seek out previously unknown near-Earth objects like asteroids and comets. NASA announced the asteroid’s close flyby on Twitter and via an online widget used by astronomers with the agency’s Asteroid Watch program. The program aims to share news and updates about asteroids and other near-Earth objects with the public.

“At 14 meters in size, 2011 EB74 is NOT considered a potentially hazardous asteroid. Rocks this size would burn up in our atmosphere,” Asteroid Watch officials wrote in a Twitter update.

The March 16 asteroid flyby is the latest space rock to fly near Earth this year. A car-size asteroid buzzed Earth on Feb. 14. A tiny space rock set a new record for the closest approach to Earth without entering the atmosphere when it zipped within 5,500 kilometers of the planet on Feb. 4.

Like 2011 EB74, neither of those asteroid encounters posed a threat to Earth.

NASA astronomers and other scientists regularly monitor the skies to hunt for asteroids or comets that may be an impact threat to Earth.

One such effort, which uses a telescope called Pan-STARRS PS1 in Hawaii, set a new record this year when it discovered 19 previously unknown asteroids in a single night on Jan. 29.

The Near-Earth Object program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., tracks potentially dangerous asteroids and studies their orbits to determine if they pose a risk of hitting the Earth. The Asteroid Watch program is an outreach arm of that effort.

 

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