This beautiful tracking video shows Asteroid 2013 XY8 buzzing by our planet on Tuesday night. It's estimated to be up to 230 feet across, more than three times the size of the Chelyabinsk asteroid that caused havoc earlier this year. And we only discovered it four days ago. This could have been hairy.
XY8 came pretty damn close to planet earth. The asteroid, estimated to be the size of a space shuttle, left us with just 470,000 miles of breathing room, roughly twice the distance between earth and the moon. Astronomically speaking, that's not a lot of space!
The asteroid orbits the sun every 3.3 years, and thankfully when the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Centre discovered it on December 7th, they soon realised it posed no threat of hitting us. It won't come near our planet again until 2072.
Still, the fact that we discovered an asteroid that could be 50 times as massive as the one that hit Chelyabinsk, when it was just four days away from us, is a wee bit unsettling. Astronomer Phil Plait makes the very good point that even when they're huge, these things are difficult to detect, and we need to put more effort into finding them. Because even Bruce Willis's ragtag team of oil drillers wouldn't have been able to reach XY8 on such short notice. [The Virtual Telescope Project via Slate]