Asteroid 2020 QG, which is roughly the same size as a car, came within just 2,000 miles of our planet, making it the closest passing asteroid that experts are aware of. However, it was not until it had made its way past Earth that experts became aware of it.
The relatively small space rock sped past our planet at eight miles per second (12.3 kilometres per second), but as it did, it got pulled by Earth’s gravity.
According to NASA, the asteroid’s trajectory changed by 45 degrees, meaning its journey through the cosmos has been changed for good.
Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said: “It’s really cool to see a small asteroid come by this close, because we can see the Earth’s gravity dramatically bend its trajectory.
“Our calculations show that this asteroid got turned by 45 degrees or so as it swung by our planet.”
Mr Chodas conceded that NASA did not spot the asteroid until it had past Earth.
He said: “The asteroid approached undetected from the direction of the sun. We didn’t see it coming.
“Yesterday’s close approach is closest on record, if you discount a few known asteroids that have actually impacted our planet.”
By comparison, the Moon is an average of 238,855 miles away from Earth.
However, the close approach does reiterate a need for watchful eyes on the sky.
While the chances of a major asteroid hitting Earth are small – NASA believes there is a one in 300,000 chance every year that a space rock which could cause regional damage will hit – the devastating prospect is not impossible.
This is why there are now plans in the pipeline which could help Earth from asteroids.
NASA is currently studying Asteroid Bennu, where its OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft arrived last year.