Close encounter: a giant asteroid whizzed close to Earth and no one detected it

In a shocking turn of events, an asteroid larger than the Leaning Tower of Pisa has come exceptionally close to Earth, slipping unnoticed past NASA’s monitoring systems. This giant asteroid, designated 2023 NT1, managed to avoid detection for two days after it had already swept past our planet.

However, due to an unfortunate alignment with the Sun, the asteroid was obscured by sunlight, thus avoiding early detection. The flight under the asteroid detection radar was another reminder of the problem of detecting some asteroids, especially those that are obscured by sunlight.

Asteroid size and approach

Asteroid 2023 NT1 reached an astonishingly close distance of about 99,000 kilometers from Earth. For comparison, this is about a quarter of the distance between the Earth and the Moon, an astonishingly short distance by astronomical standards. The asteroid boasts a diameter of up to 60 meters, making it larger than the Chelyabinsk meteor that crashed into Earth’s atmosphere in 2013.

Although harmless this time around, the close flyby of 2023 NT1 highlights the ongoing problem of detecting some asteroids, especially those that are hidden by sunlight. The 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor went undetected due to the proximity of its radiant point to the Sun.

In light of such incidents, proactive measures are being taken to mitigate future threats. The European Space Agency plans to launch its NEOMIR orbiting observatory around 2030 as one such initiative. The NEOMIR infrared telescope will aim to identify asteroids 65 feet or larger that are currently obscured by sunlight.

Astronomy professor John Smith notes: “Despite significant improvements in asteroid detection, some asteroids can still pass undetected due to sun glare. This is a serious problem that we must address to protect our planet from a potential threat.”

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