Undetected asteroid ‘almost’ collided with Earth after scientists missed it

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An asteroid capable of inflicting devastating damage passed by the Earth undetected 19 years ago today.

Named 2002 MN, at the time of passing it was the closest asteroid approach recorded by astronomers since one in 1994 which was considerably smaller.

Measuring a diameter of 80 metres the asteroid came within 120,000 kilometres, only three times the distance around the world, on June 14, 2002.

At the time Brian Marsden of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics told New Scientist: "It’s the largest object known to have come this close within decades."

Incredibly scientists only became aware of the near-miss three days after the asteroid passed by Earth.

2002 MN managed to escape detection due to it approaching from the direction of the sun and although it was viewable in the night sky it was travelling too quick to be spotted by automatic cameras.

According to New Scientist, it was only after "it moved slowly across the stellar" that the MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s LINEAR camera located it.

Asteroids are are rocky fragments left over from the formation of the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago.

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NASA lists the next five asteroid approaches to Earth that will take place and according to its website, the next approach of note will be on June 15.

The asteroid, which is the size of a house, is called 2021 LV5 and at its closest will be 4,506,163km from Earth.

On June 17, an asteroid named 2021 LY4 that is as big as a plane will come within 893,186km of the planet.

NASA says: "A Near-Earth Object (NEO) is generally defined as an asteroid or comet that approaches our planet less than 1.3 times the distance from Earth to the Sun (the Earth-Sun distance is about 93 million miles).

"Most NEOs pose no peril at all. It’s the small percentage of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids that draws extra scrutiny.

"These objects are defined as those that approach Earth at less than half the Earth-Sun distance."

  • Asteroids
  • Nasa
  • Space

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