Just hours after being spotted, a 150-foot asteroid skimmed by Earth dangerously close. Astronomers spotted the asteroid on April 15, and not long later, passed by the globe at a distance of 119,500 miles.
Astronomers named Asteroid 2018 GE3, was closest to Earth at around 2.41 a.m. ET on April 15 when it was spotted about 119,500 miles away. EarthSky.org reported that that’s much closer than the moon, which orbits Earth at an average distance of 238,900 miles. GE3 also passed close to the moon later that morning on its journey around the sun. Asteroid 2018 GE3, an Apollo-type earth-crossing asteroid, was flying through space at 66,174 miles per hour (106,497 km/h).
According to EarthSky.org, Asteroid 2018 GE3 could be as much as six times bigger than the Chelyabinsk meteorite, which exploded over central Russia in 2013. When the rock hit the atmosphere it caused a bright flash, and thousands of fragments fell throughout the region of Chelyabinsk, breaking windows and injuring about 1,500 people. If GE3 had entered Earth’s atmosphere it could have caused similar, if not more severe, damage. -Time
Earth has had several close encounters, but no real and tangible threat has arisen in recent years of an asteroid impacting the planet. The asteroid was first observed by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey project, based at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Lab in Tucson, Arizona.
With an estimated diameter of 157 to 361 feet (48 to 110 meters), asteroid 2018 GE3 has about three to six times the diameter of the space rock that penetrated the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February 2013, causing some 1,500 people to seek treatment for injuries, mostly from flying glass.
If the asteroid had entered our atmosphere, a great portion of the space rock would have disintegrated due to friction with the air. However, some of an asteroid this size might have gotten through to Earth’s surface, and an asteroid this big is capable of causing some regional damage, depending on various factors such as composition, speed, entry angle, and location of impact. It might make you feel better (or worse) to know that asteroids enter Earth’s atmosphere unnoticed on a fairly regular basis.
For example, in 2014, scientists announced 26 atom-bomb-scale asteroid impacts since 2000 that were discovered in data from the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, which operates a network of sensors that monitors Earth around the clock listening for the infrasound signature of nuclear detonations. Earth’s atmosphere does a good job of protecting us from incoming asteroids. Most explode high in the atmosphere, or over an ocean, and therefore do no harm. –EarthSky.org
Earth wasn’t in danger with this asteroid’s close passing, but there are many that could pose a threat in the future. Astronomers have increased their programs to seek near-Earth asteroids like 2018 GE3, but sometimes, like this time and as in 2013 with the Chelyabinsk event, asteroids do still surprise us.