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Asteroid the size of a skyscraper seen zipping by Earth

Asteroid 2017 VR12 may be considered "potentially hazardous," but it never really posed a threat. Mostly it just posed for astronomers and telescopes.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Contributing editor Eric Mack covers space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Eric Mack
2 min read

A sizable space rock cruised through our corner of the galaxy Wednesday without doing any harm, but it did provide a rare opportunity for even amateur astronomers to catch an asteroid fly-by.

Asteroid 2017 VR12 passed by at a safe distance of about 870,000 miles (1.4 million kilometers), which is 3.76 times the distance between the moon and Earth. While that's a big gap, it's still close in cosmic terms. Because it's big enough to do major damage if it does one day hit us it's classified as "potentially hazardous."

Most notable about this asteroid, though, is how bright it is. On its approach in February and as it now heads away from us, it is as bright as some stars, as demonstrated in the above video captured by astronomer Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project and Michael Schwartz from Arizona's Tenagra Observatories.

The brief clip is actually 240 images taken early Wednesday morning over two hours and sped up 500 times to show the asteroid moving against the backdrop of stars and the occasional satellite or perhaps tiny meteor streaking by in the foreground.

Amateur astronomer Brian Ottum also managed to capture video of the bright asteroid:

As asteroids go, 2017 VR12 is medium-sized. With a diameter of roughly 900 feet (274 meters), it would stand about as tall as the 71-story Trump Building on Wall Street in Manhattan. In other words, it's fair to say both 2017 VR12 and the Trump Building are big, but not huuuge.

This is probably as close as this asteroid will be in our lifetimes, but it won't be a total stranger. It will make a more distant pass in just eight years and then come nearly as close again in 2079.

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