Photo Shows Enormous Asteroid 2022 RM4 Before Its Close Pass by Earth

An astronomer has captured a photo of the huge asteroid 2022 RM4 that made a close but safe approach to Earth on Tuesday, November 1.

The asteroid is estimated to be between 1,080 feet and 2,400 feet across and came as close as 1.4 million miles of Earth when it sped past our planet on its way around the sun, traveling at an estimated 52,000 miles per hour.

This sounds like a large distance, which it is. Many space rocks come much closer to Earth on a regular basis. And in fact, many tiny ones enter our planet's atmosphere every day.

However, 2022 RM4's size and potential to come relatively close to Earth in astronomical terms mean scientists consider it to be a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA).

The day before 2022 RM4 was due to fly past Earth, astronomer Gianluca Masi, founder of the Italy-based Virtual Telescope Project, managed to shoot a photo of 2022 RM4 as it approached our planet. The image, taken at 5:51 p.m. UTC (1:51 p.m. EDT) on October 31, can be seen below.

Image of asteroid 2022 RM4
The asteroid 2022 RM4, photographed by astronomer Gianluca Masi at the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy on October 31, 2022. The asteroid passed Earth the following day at a distance of around 1.4 million miles. Gianluca Masi/Virtual Telescope Project

The asteroid is seen in the photo as a small white dot amongst the blurred trails of stars. The stars in the image are blurred because the telescope was moving as it tracked 2022 RM4 across the sky.

At the time the image was captured, 2022 RM4 was around 1.9 million miles from Earth.

"To capture it, our robotic telescope was asked to track the asteroid itself, so in the image it looks like a sharp dot, while stars on the background left short trails," Masi told Newsweek. "This advanced tracking capability of our telescopes makes them among the best ones in the world in tracking extremely fast-moving asteroids and satellites.

"2022 RM4 belongs to the potentially hazardous asteroids family, but it does NOT mean it is going to have an impact with us. Every asteroid larger than about 140 meters and moving on an orbit approaching that of the Earth within 7.5-million km is flagged as a PHA."

According to orbital predictions available on NASA's Solar System Dynamics website, 2022 RM4 is not due to come as close to Earth as it did on Tuesday until at least the year 2165, after which point predictions are not available.

NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) website states that a space rock larger than about 100 meters across can be expected to reach Earth's surface with an average interval of about 10,000 years, producing local disasters and tidal waves.

Scientists keep track of thousands of asteroids in the solar system so that we might know in advance of any such collision.

On September 26, NASA successfully crashed a spacecraft into a harmless asteroid as part of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission to assess the possibility of deflecting one that posed a threat in the future.

Cropped image of 2022 RM4
A cropped version of the image of the asteroid 2022 RM4 taken by Gianluca Masi at the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy on October 31, 2022. The asteroid made a close but safe approach to Earth on November 1. Gianluca Masi/Virtual Telescope Project