Asteroid 2011 MD Almost Reaches the Earth (Video)


An asteroid the size of a tour bus zipped by Earth today (June 27) in a flyby so close that the space rock was nearer to the planet than some satellites, giving skywatchers and astronomers a tantalizing target for photos.

The space rock, called asteroid 2011 MD, reached its closest point to Earth just after 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT), when it crept within 7,500 miles (12,000 km) of Earth before whipping away again like a slingshot. The asteroid was flying over the southern Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Antarctica, at the time of its closest approach.

The asteroid was discovered just last week on June 22, but there was never any risk of it impacting Earth, NASA scientists said. Astronomers with the LINEAR near-Earth object survey in Socorro, N.M., made the find.


Video of Asteroid 2011 MD




The space rock is on the small side, with latest size estimates ranging from 16 to 66 feet (5 to 20 meters) wide.

That means asteroid 2011 MD would likely be too small to survive the fiery plunge through Earth's atmosphere, let alone reach the surface, NASA scientists said. Asteroids this size can be expected to buzz Earth with close shaves about once every six years, they added.

The asteroid's close brush with Earth sent it off on a new trajectory through the solar system. The space rock flew well below geosynchronous satellites, which orbit 22,236 miles (35,786 km) above Earth, but well above the 220-mile (354-km) altitude of the International Space Station.

There was little chance the asteroid would hit a satellite because of the vastness of space and relatively small number of satellites, experts said.

By Tariq Malik, SPACE.com Managing Editor
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