back to article Good news: NASA boffins spot closest near-Earth asteroid ever. Bad news: We never saw it coming. Good news: It's also really small

A space rock the size of a sports utility vehicle zoomed within 2,950km of Earth over the weekend. It's good news because, as NASA explained, the 15 August flyby of 2020 QG was the closest pass humanity has ever detected and therefore speaks to our enormous cleverness. "It's quite an accomplishment to find these tiny close-in …

  1. james_smith Silver badge

    "And those, as your humble hack discovered when walking home a couple of months back, can be awesome as seen in the tweet below depicting my cosmic encounter."

    Still would have scared the hell out of me though!

  2. EastFinchleyite

    School run

    "A space rock the size of a sports utility vehicle "

    How do they KNOW is was a space rock. I reckon it's just as likely to be an SUV on its way to pick up the kids from Moon School because the poor little darlings can't be asked to walk home on their own.

    Bloody SUVs get everywhere these days.

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: School run

      Well of course they had to take the SUV. The roadster is on its way to Mars, but seems to have taken a wrong turn (blame the sat nav)

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: School run

      Elon's previously unreported personal vehicle... IN! SPACE!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: School run

        Self driving cars, Meh!

  3. willi0000000

    did anyone really expect my countrymen in this anti-science time to allocate money "just to watch stupid space rocks that are probably just another hoax to scam us out of money to line the pockets of those damn scientists!!!!!"?

    [ i weep for my country . . . every day ]

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      That's the advantage of a flat earth, most of the rocks will be edge-on and miss us.

  4. xyz

    I blame that sports car bloke..

    Lobbed his trendo-mobile intp space and obviously someone has retaliated with an SUV.

    1. Symon Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: I blame that sports car bloke..

      This thing will be next. I always wondered where it went.

      https://www.anorak.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/bomberonmoonsundaysport1.jpg

  5. PiltdownMan
    Joke

    Was it RED

    Did it have a spaceman sitting in the front seat?

    Was the radio playing... no, wait a minute!!!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Thing was the size of a car, moved at 12km/sec, missed us by just 2,950km"

    I was going to say that it was probably Elon's Tesla coming back for a service.... but even Tesla's don't go that fast, and the autopilot has more of a reputation for *not* missing things.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Reputation

      Car accidents kill 3200 per day worldwide but hardly ever make the news. Every time someone gets killed because a driver was not paying attention to his Tesla on autopilot it makes the news. Teslas on autopilot must miss things well over 32000 times per day but that almost never appears on the news.

      News outlets focus on the unusual so make a poor basis for making decisions about what is safe or unsafe.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Reputation

        President kills 180,000 people and is mostly ignored. But you kill ONA president and you never hear the end of it.

      2. General Purpose

        Re: Reputation

        > Car accidents kill 3200 per day worldwide

        Collisions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puK5CwThaq4

      3. 9Rune5 Silver badge

        Re: Reputation

        But Teslas are only a small portion of the car population. Plus many of them are driven by fleshbags.

        Plus, we do not know how many miles other cars have covered. I suspect Tesla know how many miles their autopilots have covered, but we'd still need a number for comparison.

      4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Reputation

        "Teslas on autopilot must miss things well over 32000 times per day but that almost never appears on the news."

        Non Teslas drivenby humans miss things many, many more times than that. That's not on the news either.

  7. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. devTrail

    Within a busy area

    A space rock [...] zoomed within 2,950km of Earth

    That's inside the orbit of many satellites, way inside the orbit of geostationary satellites and less than 1000km from the orbit of the ISS.

    Apart from the picture was it detected by the radar or other sensors of one of those satellites?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Within a busy area

      Most satellites don't waste power and mass by sending MW of radar 1000s of km out into space

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Within a busy area

      I wouldn't call it "busy". Work out the volume of a sphere of that radius and consider the fraction filled by satellites and the volume of the cylinder swept out by the rock.

      Even Earth appears (fortunately) to be quite hard to hit and it has measurable gravitational field. (Pedant's alert: Yes, I know that you can measure the gravitational field of a small lump of metal and have been able to since Cavendish's time, but you get my drift.)

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Alien

    Grumps

    Well the damn thing had better stay off my lawn, or there'll be trouble.

  10. hoola Bronze badge

    Kabooom......

    Probably best to see it on the way out and think, "phew".

    The likelihood of detecting these things on the way in is very remote and there is nothing to be done about it in the time available.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thing was the size of a car

    tesla, by chance?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "But the less-good news is that we spotted it on the way out."

    That's actually great news, in a "what's worse than finding a worm in your apple?" kind of way.

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Facepalm

      ... finding half a worm. 'cos you've eaten the other half.

  13. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Extra-terrestials...

    Well, maybe it was a scout vehicle to sort things out before the invasion. And here, we thought War of the Worlds was just fiction.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Extra-terrestials...

      With 2020 being the year that just keeps on giving, nothing bad would surprise me. Good news, on the other hand, would probably make me swoon :-)

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Extra-terrestials...

      "And here, we thought War of the Worlds was just fiction."

      You think it came from Mars? I won der what the chances of that are?

  14. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Arecibo is borked

    Arecibo was the main asteroid spotter, and with it out of commission... well, we miss some.

    1. First Light Bronze badge

      Re: Arecibo is borked

      I woud like to know how it happened. Some on the Intertubez think it may have been aliens . . .

      As hurricanes get more frequent and more violent, the Caribbean may not be the best location for a high-maintenance object like that. Unless they can somehow hurricane-proof it. And earthquake-proof. Hmm. Maybe just move it altogether?

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: Arecibo is borked

        > Maybe just move it altogether?

        Where? I'm guessing it needs a valley of the right size and shape (to keep structure costs low), an environment without the slightest electromagnetic pollution (so no TV/radio/phone reception whatsoever, and no settlement with WiFi and microwave ovens nearby) and it needs to be outside of the main air traffic corridors (plane radio traffic, also the danger of frying a plane overhead when using the dish as a radar...).

        That excludes most if not all of the continental USA. As for other tropical islands, they would have the exact same problems concerning hurricanes and stuff.

        I guess the best place is where it currently is, most of the investment has been made, and after all, it stood there and worked just fine for quite a while before getting damaged. They just need to find it in them to fix it (instead of letting it deteriorate beyond the point where repair still makes any sense).

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Arecibo is borked

          "That excludes most if not all of the continental USA. As for other tropical islands, they would have the exact same problems concerning hurricanes and stuff."

          Sounds like an extinct volcano would be a good option. Preferably with the optional retractable fake lake.

      2. RM Myers Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Arecibo is borked

        Given its age (completed in 1963) and size, I doubt they will be moving it. Also, there are a number of newer radio telescopes and radio telescope arrays which are probably a higher priority for future funding. Arecibo is going to struggle to get sufficient funding to repair the current damage and meet operating needs.

        1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

          Re: Arecibo is borked

          "Given its age..."

          The age of the dish is irrelevant. You can swap out the receiver for a new one any time you like, the dish will still work fine: it's just a big mirror.

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: Arecibo is borked

            I think the biggest (pun not intended) problem is that Arecibo isn't the biggest dish anymore, and the moneybags clearly balk at the idea of spending money for second best.

            In the current USA-China male genitalia measuring contest it's way better to say "oh, we don't consider needing one of those" than to have the smaller one...

      3. John Jennings Bronze badge

        Re: Arecibo is borked

        Arecebo is built on a sinkhole - there are many with similar dimensions across the world. Its location is more to do with its near equatorial location (and thats where the hurricanes are)

        The main thing is that newer techniques for receivers have superseded its original effectiveness. It is still useful - just not the most powerful any more. for flexibility, it is usually better to have many receivers spread out over a wide area (ideally the circumference of the planet). There is a large one in Australia now

        1. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: Arecibo is borked

          > newer techniques for receivers have superseded its original effectiveness

          That might be true, but Arecibo remains quite unique since it's also a radar astronomy dish, able among others to spot asteroids and check their orbits (what the OP of this thread referred to). AFAIK there is only one other dish able to be used as a radar (GSSR), and it's 4 times smaller.

          1. JCitizen Bronze badge

            Re: Arecibo is borked

            What? There are thousands of radio telescopes all over the world; why would that one be that much different? It may not have the latest gadgets but radio(radar) it is. I drove by one of the largest arrays on the way to LA once. They have them on tracks that change position depending on the mission. They were huge!

            1. ThatOne Silver badge

              Re: Arecibo is borked

              > There are thousands of radio telescopes all over the world

              You seem to have completely missed the point here. Radio telescopes are common indeed, but they are all passive devices, they just listen to incoming radio signals.

              The specificity of Arecibo and GSSR is that they can be used as a radar emitter, capable of sending a radar signal out and receiving the echo reflected by some body (planet, asteroid), allowing you to pinpoint its exact distance and speed. Check the Wikipedia article about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radar_astronomy

  15. Snake Silver badge
    Alert

    Err, gravity...

    Being that it passed only 2,950km from Earth, if the asteroid is in its own elliptical orbit that orbit has now been affected by Earth's gravity well. This means, quite possibly, that in some near or distant future that "near miss" maybe won't be quite such a miss after all.

    If all your ducks are (unwelcomingly) in a row, that is.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Err, gravity...

      Or, the orbital pretubabce will ensure that the next go-around will completely miss the earth. There are probably some Rich Parnells working on it now.

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