Earth just had two near-misses with asteroids

The Goldstone Solar System Radar, part of NASA’s Deep Space Network, made these observations of the recently discovered 500-foot-wide (150-meter-wide) asteroid 2024 MK, which made its closest approach — within about 184,000 miles (295,000 kilometers) (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

An asteroid the size of a football stadium weaved between the Moon and Earth on Saturday. Scientists learned of 2024 MK, as the asteroid was named, two weeks before it came within 180,000 miles of the planet. 

For comparison, the Moon is about 238,855 miles from Earth, but in space, distances are all relative. This near-miss was one of two close encounters Earth had with asteroids recently.

Tracking two asteroids near Earth

In a significant effort, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California tracked two asteroids. On June 27, asteroid 2011 UL21, nearly a mile wide, passed at a safe distance of 4.1 million miles from Earth. 

Discovered in 2011, this asteroid was found to have a small moon orbiting it, adding a layer of intrigue to the observation.

An asteroid weaved between the Moon and Earth

Just days later, on June 29, asteroid 2024 MK, which is about 500 feet wide, passed even closer, coming within 180,000 miles of Earth. 

Detailed radar images revealed its elongated and angular shape, along with notable surface features like concavities and ridges. This close approach, detected just 13 days prior, provided scientists with a unique opportunity to study the asteroid's characteristics.

Importance of these observations

These close encounters provide crucial data for planetary defense. Understanding the size, orbit, and composition of near-Earth objects is essential for preparing against potential future threats. 

The information gathered from these flybys helps scientists refine their models and improve our ability to detect and respond to similar objects in the future.