Small Asteroid 2009 VA Whizzes by the Earth

A newly discovered asteroid designated 2009 VA, which is only about 7 meters in size, passed about 2 Earth radii (14,000 km) from the Earth’s surface Nov. 6 at around 16:30 EST.

This is the third-closest known (non-impacting) Earth approach on record for a cataloged asteroid. The two closer approaches include the 1-meter sized asteroid 2008 TS26, which passed within 6,150 km of the Earth’s surface on October 9, 2008, and the 7-meter sized asteroid 2004 FU162 that passed within 6,535 km on March 31, 2004. On average, objects the size of 2009 VA pass this close about twice per year and impact Earth about once every 5 years.

Asteroid 2009 VA was discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey about 15 hours before the close approach, and was quickly identified by the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge MA as an object that would soon pass very close to the Earth. JPL’s Near-Earth Object Program Office also computed an orbit solution for this object, and determined that it was not headed for an impact. Only thirteen months ago, the somewhat smaller object 2008 TC3 was discovered under similar circumstances, but that one was found to be on a trajectory headed for the Earth, with impact only about 11 hours away.

Don Yeomans, Paul Chodas, Steve Chesley
NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office

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