RockDoctor (Slashdot reader #15,477) is a professional geologist, and asks: Did anyone feel a sudden wind through their hair at about 17:19+00:00 on Monday, particularly in the mid Pacific? No? Good. Nobody else did. Nobody noticed the asteroid whizzing past just above the Earth’s atmosphere (for certain values of “above” including “not very far” and “373km above ground”). That’s the closest natural body (i.e., not a spacecraft) documented in near-Earth space which hasn’t actually hit the thick-enough parts of the atmosphere to glow, fragment, make sonic booms and dent automobiles. So, we dodged another bullet, and no windows were broken. This one probably wouldn’t have done significant damage even if it had touched down in fire and fury — it was about half the size of the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor, and so around one eighth of the energy (and potential damage). Everyone can go back to bed and sleep easy. Right? But one tiny thing to disturb your sleep : we didn’t see this one coming until after it had gone past us. Nor did we see it in it’s close approaches on 2014-10-26.60152 or 2017-11-06.57008. And with another 39 projected Earth approaches before the next turn-of-century, it’s pretty obvious that one day this is going to hit us. For those who know what an MPEC is [a Minor Planet Electronic Circular], Bill Grey has written up one of his “pseudo-MPECs” with links to other work on this object here, while the actual discovery record is here. The object has been given a formal name of 2020 VT4 unless the discoverers at the ATLAS Mauna Loa Observatory choose to give it a name (“COVID”, or “hair-parter”, or “hats-off”, perhaps. Or just “Rupert”.) Wikipedia has caught up too. There will be another close-pass, and an impact, one day. This doesn’t change the odds of that happening (probability 1), but it might make it feel a little more immediate.

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