Asteroid 2017 VL2 is the size of a whale, which means it’s large enough to wipe out a major city. It measures between six and 32 metres wide and came within 73,000 miles of the surface of Earth.
This is just one-third of the distance between our planet and the moon. It passed by on November 9 and was only observed on November 10. If it hit Earth, the asteroid would wipe out anything within a radius of about 4 miles. Luckily, it won’t come back our way until 2125.
Planet Earth will have another terrifyingly close encounter with a three-mile-wide asteroid just over a week before Christmas. A gigantic space rock called 3200 Phaethon is due to brush ‘quite close’ to our planet on December 17, Russian astronomers have revealed. This huge asteroid is thought to cause the beautiful Geminids meteor shower which will take place between December 13 and 14, causing hundreds of bright meteors to illuminate the night sky as they burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
But NASA has also described it as a ‘potentially hazardous asteroid whose path misses Earth’s orbit by only 2 million miles‘ – which is tiny in galactic terms. It’s about half the size of Chicxulub, the rock which wiped out the dinosaurs, and has a very unusual orbit which causes it to pass closer to the sun than any other named asteroid.
Astronomers from the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University have just published a video which tracks the path of Phaethon. In a statement, the uni wrote:
“Apparently, this asteroid was once a much bigger object, but its many approaches to the Sun have caused it to crumble into smaller pieces which eventually formed this meteor shower. If so, the asteroid itself could be the residue of a comet nucleus. The asteroid’s extremely elongated orbit, thanks to which it sometimes gets to the Sun closer than Mercury and it sometimes moves away farther than Mars, is another argument in favour of this theory.”