A space rock sped past Earth yesterday, just a third of the distance between us and the moon – and one astronomer managed to snap a picture of it beforehand.
An asteroid estimated to be between 23.5 and 52.5 feet in diameter, 2022 GN1 is reported to have passed our planet around 11:02 p.m. EDT on April 5, according to the NASA Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). At the time it was traveling at around 34,500 miles per hour.
The asteroid posed no threat to Earth. At its closest point, it was about 78,000 miles away — spatially close.
Gianluca Masi is an astronomer at the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy. Using a robotic telescope unit, he managed to take a picture of the asteroid while it was still on its way to our planet.
2022 GN1 can be seen as a small white dot in the center of the image below, denoted by a white arrow. The streaks seen in the background are stars because the telescope was moving as it tracked the asteroid across the sky. At the time the photo was taken, the asteroid was about 270,000 miles away.
On the Virtual Telescope Project website, Masi described the asteroid’s flyby of Earth as a “very close but safe encounter.”
Based on calculations available on NASA’s Solar System Dynamics (SSD) website, 2022 GN1 will not “closer approach” Earth again until 2030, although it won’t be nearly as close by then.
Astronomers are currently tracking thousands of asteroids as they orbit the sun to make sure none of them will collide with our planet.
Some pose a greater threat than others. While 2022 GN1 was sizeable and very close to our planet, it is nowhere near as large as some space rocks we are familiar with.
Later this month at around 10:46 p.m. EDT on April 27, asteroid 418135 (2008 AG33) will pass relatively close to our planet.
At around 2 million miles away, it won’t be nearly as close as 2022 GN1. That’s a good thing, because 2008 AG33 is estimated to be between 330 meters (1,083 feet) and 740 meters (2,428 feet) in diameter. In other words, the asteroid would be nearly twice the height of the Empire State Building in New York City.
CNEOS states on its website that “nobody should be unduly concerned” about an asteroid impacting Earth, but that the likelihood of it is “not negligible”. In 2021, NASA launched its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission to test technology capable of altering an asteroid’s orbit.