As its name implies, space has plenty of room, but that doesn't mean it's empty. Quite the contrary, with a fair amount of traffic even in the vicinity of Earth. This year the tally of known near-Earth asteroids and comets passed 15,000 and more are being discovered, like asteroid 2016 VA, which buzzed our planet Wednesday just a day after it was first spotted.
Asteroid 2016 VA was discovered by the Mt. Lemmon Sky Survey in Arizona and determined to be on track to pass by Earth at a distance of just 75,000 km (46,603 miles), or about a quarter of the way to the Moon.
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The International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center tracks thousands of objects with at least one close approach happening just about every day, but most of them pass by at distances anywhere from several to a few dozen times the distance to the Moon, which means 2016 VA is making a very close approach compared to most fly-bys.
"Asteroids coming this close (or even closer) are found from time to time by the automated surveys looking for near-Earth objects," Gianluca Masi, Director of the Virtual Telescope Project, told New Atlas. "So far this year, we had about 50 asteroids come closer than the Moon."
Close fly-bys of asteroids have snuck up on us before. Just over a year ago one was spotted for the first time as it passed at 1.3 lunar distances and the meteor that blew out windows in Russia in 2013 led to a call for more asteroid surveillance.
Asteroid 2016 VA sailed safely by us, however, just after midnight UTC. Even if it were on a collision course with Earth, it measures only about 12 m (39 ft) and much or all of it would likely burn up in our atmosphere.View gallery - 2 images