LOS ANGELES – Whew, that was close. An asteroid the size of a tour bus streaked harmlessly past Earth on Monday, passing within 7,600 miles.
Discovered only last week, the relatively small space rock made a hairpin turn around the planet at about 10 a.m. PDT, sailing high over the southern Atlantic Ocean.
The asteroid, dubbed 2011 MD, was initially mistaken by astronomers for a piece of space junk because it was so small, at 15 to 60 feet wide. Later observations confirmed it was an asteroid that had no chance of hitting Earth.
Asteroids of this size typically brush by Earth every six years. In fact, earlier this year, a smaller one came even closer to our planet, passing within 3,500 miles.
Even if the latest one had aimed straight for us, it would have burned up in the atmosphere and not caused any damage on the ground.
“We’re just waking up to the fact that Mother Nature has been shooting these things across the bow for millennia,” said Don Yeomans, who heads the program that tracks potentially dangerous space rocks at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.