Early this week, a massive asteroid measuring about 3280 feet wide flew past the Earth. The asteroid was dubbed 2020 QU6 and was discovered by an amateur astronomer from Brazil. The asteroid is classified as potentially hazardous but safely passed by the Earth at a distance of more than 20 million miles.
It’s hard to put 20 million miles in perspective, but that’s more than 100 times the distance between the Earth and the moon, according to the Planetary Society. For those wondering why we are hearing more about asteroids in recent months, it’s because scientists and astronomers getting better at discovering and tracking them.
It’s not that the number of asteroids are increasing, it’s just that we are better able to find and track them. Asteroid 2020 QU6 was discovered on August 27 by amateur astronomer Leonardo Amaral at the Campo dos Amarais Observatory near São Paulo, Brazil. Amaral received an $8500 grant from The Planetary Society to purchase better telescope equipment to allow him to find, track, and characterize near-Earth objects.
The grant paid off, allowing him to discover the asteroid recently. His observatory is located in the southern hemisphere, offering a unique vantage point for tracking asteroids since many professional observatories looking for near-Earth objects are in the northern hemisphere. The fact that the asteroid was discovered only a few days before it flew past the Earth highlights the need to track asteroids.
Astronomers, both professional and amateur, from all around the world are currently searching for near-Earth asteroids. NASA operates missions to search out planetary threats, including the NEO-Surveillance Mission, which is a space telescope designed specifically to find and track near-Earth objects.