It looks like the Universe is playing with planet Earth. From time to time it throws rocks at it, like in a snowball game. It is gentle, though, as the asteroids didn’t enter the Earth’s atmosphere so far.
The Universe still needs some training before succeeding. Or, maybe, it gives us time to accommodate the idea. On January 17th, the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy spotted a big rock getting close to Earth.
In space, close is a different concept: 1.9 million earthly miles. But if you look at the pictures, it feels like Earth is making acquaintance with AN3. 2020 AN3 is the asteroid’s given name.
It has family ties with the group of asteroids that scientists estimate could someday really hit the blue planet.
More about this potentially hazardous asteroid
The telescope took some pictures of the rock approach and added them to the file of all the other rocks that came too close: 2008 TC3, 2014 AA, 2018 LA, and 2019 MO. They are named NEO (Near-Earth Objects) and are all closely followed.
2020 AN3 wasn’t a real threat, but the solar system’s gravitational pull between planets can slide asteroids’ orbit. And this can end up in a too-close encounter. For now, the only thing the agencies should worry about is for Earth to come just unusually close with one.
On January 20 another asteroid, 2020 AQ, was speeding in Earth’s proximity and got the NASA’s and the European Space Agency’s full attention. If they can so much as to be seen, asteroids get on the risk list. But they are a real threat. With 2020 AN3 it wasn’t meant to be.
Maybe because it was civilized, the asteroid announced its presence. But it seems there are hazardous objects out there, that might just hit Earth out of the blue. And space won’t make a sound.