A space rock the size of three blue whales just zoomed past Earth, but there was no risk for Earthlings.
At its closest approach, the asteroid missed the planet by more than 3.5 million kilometres, about 10 times the moon-Earth distance. The asteroid, called 2021 GT2, measures between 37 and 83 metres in width, so it could wipe out an entire city if it hits Earth. We are fortunate that space is so big that most of these rocks will pass us by.
In an orbit that is quite similar to Earth's, the so-called Aten asteroid 2021 GT2 hurtles through space at a mind-boggling 26,000 kph. In spite of their closer approaches to the sun than our planet, Aten asteroids regularly cross the path of our planet due to their elliptical orbits.
The asteroid 2021 GT2, discovered last year, orbits the sun every 342 days and is one of nearly 1,800 known Aten asteroids. Earth will next experience a "close" encounter with 2021 GT2 in January 2034. This next encounter will also pose no threat to Earth, since the two bodies will pass at a distance of 14.6 million kilometres, more than four times farther than this time.
In the foreseeable future, scientists do not expect any large asteroids to collide with Earth. Nevertheless, there are many asteroids out there that haven't yet been discovered, or whose orbits aren't yet perfectly known.
A 19-meter wide asteroid exploded near the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in February 2013. However, the shock wave generated by the explosion shattered over 3,600 windows and injured 1,500 people in the city, despite the space rock passing 40 kilometres from the city.
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