Monday, April 16, 2018

Football Field-Sized Asteroid Makes a Surprising Close Approach to Earth

2018 GE3's orbit with 30 day markers. Credit: Wikipedia/Tomruen

An asteroid estimated to be even 110 meters wide, made a surprising fly-by of Earth on Sunday, April 15, just few hours after it was detected by astronomers. The space rock, designated 2018 GE3, passed by our planet at around 6:41 UTC at a distance of about 0.5 lunar distances (LD), or 192,000 kilometers.

2018 GE3 is an Apollo-type near-Earth object (NEO) detected April 14 by by the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS). CSS is a project to discover comets and asteroids, and to search for near-Earth objects (NEOs), based at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Lab in Tucson, Arizona.

Observations reveal that 2018 GE3 has an estimated diameter between 34 and 110 meters. It has an absolute magnitude of 23.8, and orbits the sun every two and a half years at a distance of approximately 1.85 AU. On Sunday, it flew by the Earth with a relative velocity of about 29.6 km/s.

According to astronomers, 2018 GE3 is the largest known asteroid to ever pass that close to Earth in observational history. Asteroid Apophis will break both this records when it will whiz by our planet at only 0.098 LD (37,600 kilometers) on April 13, 2029.

Besides close approach to Earth on April 15, 2018 GE3 also flew by the Moon at a distance of about 0.34 LD (130,500 kilometers). On December 25, 2020 this asteroid will make another fly-by of Earth, however at a much larger distance of approximately 88 LD, what corresponds to 33.8 million kilometers.

On April 16, there were 1,907 potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) detected and none of them is on a collision course with our planet. PHAs are asteroids larger than 100 meters that can come closer to Earth than 19.5 LD.

To date, astronomers have discovered more than 18,000 NEOs. Only this year 568 such objects were detected.

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