An asteroid the size of a house whizzed by Earth earlier today, missing our blue marble by only 26,000 miles. If that doesn't sound too close, it's about nine times closer than the moon and about as far away as the distance the International Space Station orbits.
The asteroid, known simply as 2012 TC4, passed about 26,000 miles overhead of Antarctica at 1:42 a.m. Central time. Even if the asteroid did have Earth in its cross hairs, the size of the asteroid would have led to a fireball-type event.
But fireballs can cause damage. This asteroid was approximately the same size that burst over Russia in 2013. Around 1,500 people were indirectly injured from that event, mainly from broken window glass that shattered from the shock wave that arrived several minutes after the fireball was seen. Even though the majority of that asteroid disintegrated in the atmosphere, many tiny fragments made it to the Earth's surface.
This go around, scientists are using the event as a test of sorts for when an asteroid does indeed approach the Earth.
"Asteroid trackers are using this flyby to test the worldwide asteroid detection and tracking network, assessing our capability to work together in response to finding a potential real asteroid-impact threat," Michael Kelley, program scientist and NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office lead for the TC4 campaign, explained.
So while this particular asteroid isn't posing a threat here to us on Earth, hopefully it can help us detect one that could so that action can be taken.