An asteroid that is larger than the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa, made its closest approach to the Earth at 12.46am last night. According to NASA, the space rock, dubbed “2005 YY128”, is a whopping 2,400 feet wide and flew within 2,860,000 miles of the planet’s south pole. This — about 12 times the distance of the Moon — is the nearest the asteroid has gotten in more than 400 years, astronomers have said.
As its designation suggests, 2005 YY128 was discovered back in 2005, by astronomers at the Kitt Peak Observatory in Tuscon, Arizona. It is estimated to be travelling through space at a speed of around 55,140 miles per hour.
2005 YY128 is a so-called Apollo-type asteroid, meaning that their path around the Sun causes it to cross the Earth’s orbit.
Scientists have estimated that there are a whopping 17,450 Apollo asteroids — meaning that they are the largest group of so-called near-Earth objects.
The so-called Chelyabinsk meteor — which exploded over the Russian city of the same name back in 2013, breaking windows and injuring some 1,500 people — was an example of an Apollo-class asteroid.
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Of the Apollo-class bodies, some 1,976 are classified as being potentially hazardous asteroids.
Counter-intuitively, however, this definition does not mean that such space rocks pose a true hazard to Earth.
Instead, the classification is given to those whose orbits bring them to within 4,600,000 miles of our planet — the equivalent of 18 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.
that are above a certain threshold size — of 460 feet wide — as determined by measuring their apparent brightness.
As it happens, 2005 YY128 was not the only asteroid to pass close to Earth last night — although its compatriots were considerably smaller.
According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, three “aeroplane-size” bodies, with sizes ranging from 91 up to 120 feet got as close as 1,620,000–2,530,000 miles away.
A fourth passer-by came closer still — at a distance of just 923,000 miles, or about 2–3 times the Earth–Moon distance — although this asteroid was only 26 feet across.
Unlike 2005 YY128, these smaller visitors were only found relatively recently, either this year or last.
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These close approaches came just days after a small asteroid exploded over the English channel, near Normandy.
The light show from the shooting star’s “airburst” was visible across most of southern England and Wales — and even as far south as Paris, France.
The incident was rare, experts said, in that the asteroid disintegrated in sight of populated areas with advance warning, allowing significant data collection.
Designated “Sar2667” and then “2023 CX₁” by astronomers, the rock is estimated to have been around 3.3 feet in size — just above the lower limit for classification as an asteroid.
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