Photo Shows House-Sized Asteroid Before a Close Shave With Earth

A space rock zoomed past Earth at just one-third the distance between us and the moon yesterday—and one astronomer managed to get a photo of it beforehand.

2022 GN1 is an asteroid estimated to be between 23.5 and 52.5 feet in diameter and is thought to have passed our planet at about 11:02 p.m. EDT on April 5, according to NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). At the time, it was traveling at around 34,500 miles per hour.

The asteroid did not pose any threat to Earth. At its closest point, it was about 78,000 miles away—close in terms of space.

2022 GN1
Asteroid 2022 GN1 photographed by Gianluca Masi at the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy on April 5th, 2022. Gianluca Masi/Virtual Telescope Project

Gianluca Masi is an astronomer at the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy. Using a robotic telescope unit he managed to snap a photo of the asteroid when it was still on its way to our planet.

2022 GN1 can be seen as a small white dot in the center of the image below, indicated by a white arrow. The streaks seen in the background are stars, since the telescope was moving as it tracked the asteroid across the sky. At the time the photo was taken, the asteroid was around 270,000 miles away.

On the Virtual Telescope Project website, Masi described the asteroid's pass by Earth as a "very close but safe encounter."

Based on calculations available on NASA's Solar System Dynamics (SSD) website, 2022 GN1 is not due to make a "close approach" by the Earth again until the year 2030, though it will not be nearly as close that time.

Astronomers currently track thousands of asteroids as they orbit the sun in order to make sure that none of them are due to collide with our planet.

Some pose bigger threats than others. While 2022 GN1 was sizable and came very close to our planet, it is nowhere near as big as some space rocks we know of.

Later this month at around 10:46 p.m. EDT on April 27, the asteroid 418135 (2008 AG33) will make a relatively close pass by our planet.

Passing at a distance of around 2 million miles it will not be anywhere near as close as 2022 GN1 came. This is just as well, because 2008 AG33 is estimated to measure between 330 meters (1,083 feet) and 740 meters (2,428 feet) in diameter. In other words, the asteroid would be almost double the height of the Empire State Building in New York City.

CNEOS states on its website that "no one should be overly concerned" about an Earth impact by an asteroid but that the chances of this happening are "not negligible". In 2021, NASA launched its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission to test technology capable of changing an asteroid's orbital path.

Asteroid
A stock photo shows an illustration of an asteroid flying through space. Scientists keep track of thousands of space rocks orbiting the sun. dottedhippo/Getty