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Surprising Science

Asteroid Cuts Closer Than Satellites

Asteroid 2011 MD reached its closest point to Earth when it crept within 7,500 miles of the planet’s surface—closer than some satellites—before whipping away again like a slingshot.

What’s the Latest Development?

Asteroid 2011 MD was discovered just last week at the LINEAR near-Earth object survey in Socorro, N.M. That is perhaps startling news given that this school-bus size rock gave the planet a closer shave than some of its own satellites. “The asteroid was flying over the southern Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Antarctica, at the time of its closest approach.” N.A.S.A. scientists said the asteroid, due to its size, would have burned up in the atmosphere but that rocks of similar size can be expected to brush Earth every six years or so. 

What’s the Big Idea?

It happened once before and, statistically speaking, it will happen again. Thankfully, astronomers are not sitting idly by: “N.A.S.A. scientists and other astronomers search for near-Earth space rocks like 2011 MD as part of a program to identify potentially hazardous asteroids that could threaten the planet.” 2011 MD is the second space rock to zip extremely close by Earth this year. The other object, called asteroid 2011 CQ1, passed within 3,400 miles of Earth on February 4, making it the closest known flyby of an asteroid to date.


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