A newly discovered asteroid that was about the size of a refrigerator snuck past scientists’ discovery this week when the space rock came within just 2,000 miles of Antarctica, according to new data.
The asteroid, called 2021 UA1, is reportedly the third closest bypass of a foreign object that did not end in a collision.
It crawled past the Earth’s southern hemisphere at about 1,800 miles, which is still longer than the International Space Station.
The object was first discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey, which is working to identify threatening asteroids, according to CNET.
A simulation shows how close the space rock came to the planet.
The object, about 6.6 feet in diameter, would probably have mostly burned up if it had hit the atmosphere, according to reports. It was undiscovered until hours after it had passed the planet, as it approached from the direction of the sun and blocked it from the sight of scientists.
NASAs Dr. Kelly Fast posted a video on the agency’s Facebook page last week that answered the question that set the stage for several Hollywood movies: what would happen if it was discovered that an asteroid would hit Earth?
She said it is our best defense to identify asteroids as early as possible.
“It’s important to find asteroids before they find us if we’re going to have to get them before they get us,” she said in the short video. “An asteroid impact is the only national disaster that can be prevented.”
She said NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office is working to identify as many asteroids as possible and document and project their orbits far into the future.
“If a threat of an asteroid impact is detected years or decades in advance, a deflection mission may be possible,” she said.