By THERESA BRAINE, NY Daily News
Holy space rocks, Batman!
While everyone was looking over Earth’s collective shoulder toward the asteroid that was potentially going to whiz past us the day before Election Day, an entirely different one came at us via our blind spot — the direction of the sun.
It passed a mere 239 miles or so from Earth, skimming the tip-top part of our atmosphere — on Friday the 13th.
An asteroid near earth. (Getty Images/iStock)
And no one noticed until the next day, when 15 hours later it was detected by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System survey at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.
The Election Day one was the size of a fridge, as astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson said in raising the alarm at the time. But in the end that one barely nicked Earth’s orbit, let alone our atmosphere.
Asteroid 2020 VT4 is another story. An estimated 16-32 feet across, “about the size of a small house,” according to Universe Today, it set a record for the “closest documented non-meteoric asteroid pass versus the Earth.”
Traveling at 30,014 miles per hour, it whizzed past us over the South Pacific at 12:20 p.m. Eastern Time last Friday, EarthSky.org reported.
This is about the same height, give or take a few miles, that the International Space Station orbits above Earth. However there was nothing even close to a collision there.
“Space is so big — and the space station and asteroid are both so relatively small — that it would be extremely unlikely for an asteroid of this size to collide with the space laboratory,” EarthSky said.
Besides, the ISS was over the South Atlantic at the time, Universe Today said.
Other record-breaking asteroid approaches this year have been more than a thousand miles from us, making 2020 VT4 a much closer call.
However, astronomers agree that even if it had come within the 50 to 70 miles above Earth’s surface, where most such space rocks break up, it wouldn’t have done anything more than disintegrate — though it would have been an impressive meteor even in broad daylight, EarthSky noted.
While Earth was unscathed, if clueless, the same cannot be said for 2020 VT4.
“This passage actually substantially altered the orbit of 2020 VT4,” Universe Today noted, changing its 549-day orbit (about 1.5 years) around the sun to a 315-day one (about 10 months), and even changing its asteroid classification, given that it’s now inside the orbit of Venus.