Asteroid images: Near Earth asteroid snapped by astronomers MILLIONS of miles away

The asteroid called 2020 RJ made a relatively close approach to Earth yesterday, passing within a distance of 1.2 million kilometres (745,000 miles), or 3.3 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Despite the asteroid being so far from Earth, astronomers still managed to snap an image of the space rock which is just 42 metres in length.

An image from the Virtual Telescope Project shows the asteroid passing against a backdrop of stars, and highlights just how powerful ground-based telescopes can be.

The Virtual Telescope Project said: “The image comes from a single 240-seconds exposure, remotely taken with the ‘Elena’ (PlaneWave 17″+Paramount ME+SBIG STL-6303E) robotic unit available at Virtual Telescope.

“The telescope carefully tracked the fast apparent motion of the asteroid, so stars result in long trails, while the asteroid looks like a sharp dot of light in the centre of the image. It is marked by an arrow.

“It was shining at magnitude 16.7.

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“At the imaging time, asteroid 2020 RJ wass at about 1.26 millions of km from the Earth. It was discovered by the Mt Lemmon Survey on September 5, 2020.

“This 19-42 meters large asteroid reached its minimum distance (about 1.2 millions of km) from us on September 8, 2020 at 22:45 UTC (source: Nasa/JPL).

“Of course, there were no risks at all for our planet.”

At 42 metres, even if the asteroid had collided with Earth it would not have posed a threat to life.

Scientists know this as in 2013, a 20-metre meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, smashing windows and caused injuries to more than 1,000 people – but no people died.

But Paolo Nespoli, an Italian astronaut with the European Space Agency (ESA), has warned there are more than a million asteroids that experts know of which could hit Earth at some point.

While Mr Nespoli concedes many of these asteroids are small enough to not be considered a threat, some of them would be reminiscent of the dinosaur killer.

Mr Nespoli tweeted: “Between small and big, there are more than 1 million asteroids out there that could hit the Earth.

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“Right now, we are mostly ignoring the probability of a massive one suddenly appearing. It’s time to act.”

NASA has made great strides in discovering near-Earth objects that are over one kilometre in size, with 90 percent now accounted for.

However, this means there is still 10 percent of dangerous asteroids that have not been spotted.

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