If the Earth were a person, it might have felt a sudden wind rustling its hair when a small asteroid whizzed past the planet on Wednesday. The asteroid, saddled with the name 2016 RB1, is a new discovery. Astronomers just noticed it on September 5 thanks to the keen eye of a telescope from the Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Arizona.
What makes 2016 RB1 so sneaky is its small size. It's only about 25 to 50 feet (7 to 16 meters) in diameter. It passed within just 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) of Earth, which NASA helpfully translates into 1/10th the distance from Earth to the moon. In terms of the massive size of the galaxy, that qualifies as a relatively close shave.
An animated GIF of the flyby shows a tiny white dot moving against a grainy space background. The asteroid's trajectory kept it well out of the way of any satellites, and the planet was never in any danger.
Asteroids are constantly zipping by the Earth's vicinity, but 2016 RB1 came particularly close. NASA's Near Earth Object Program tracks asteroids like this one. A quick look at recent and upcoming space objects puts 2016 RB1 at a much tighter squeeze than any other asteroid on the list. Don't worry about future visits, though. NASA notes, "It is the closest the space rock will come to Earth for at least the next half century."