NASA scientists failed to detect an asteroid the size of a football field until a day before it skipped across the sky within 120,000 miles from Earth.
A large asteroid called 2018 GE3 flew through the Earth-Moon system Sunday, less than 119,00 miles from Earth. It was discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey before skirting half the distance between the moon and Earth, according to an email NASA sent WattsUpWithThat’s Anthony Watts.
“We dodged a bullet today. It came within one half of the distance to the moon,” Watts said Sunday after the space rock cruised through the southern constellation Serpens. “It was the largest known asteroid to ever pass that close to Earth in observational history.”
The asteroid was about five or six times larger than the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia in 2013, breaking windows and sending flames spiraling into the morning sky. The 2018 GE3 would have caused extensive regional, not global, damage had it collided with the planet. It is unclear where on planet Earth the asteroid would have hit.
NASA frequently worries about detecting such an object on an impact course with Earth too late to make a difference. Some scientists worry the agency won’t be able to get a mission together in time to stop an asteroid or comet, because it would five years just to build a spacecraft capable of the intercept.
“For some scenarios we could get many decades or more of warning (this is especially true for ‘normal’ asteroids that are covered by our current search strategies),” Dr. Joseph Nuth, a senior asteroid scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center told The Daily Caller News Foundation in 2017. He added, “We could potentially have less than a year or so from detection to impact in the very worst case.”
NASA and its European partners focus on finding objects of at least 459 feet in diameter, which are large enough to devastate whole cities. This means they occasionally miss very small asteroids capable of doing a lot of damage. Such a small asteroid barely missed Earth in February, just hours after scientists first spotted it. The asteroid got within 32,200 miles of the Earth, or about 7.6 times closer than the moon.
NASA has not yet responded to TheDCNF’s request for comment about the official size of the asteroid, or the significance of the 2018 GE3’s ability to skirt so close to Earth virtually undetected.