June 27, 2011 -- A small asteroid, estimated between 16 and 65 feet in diameter, whipped past Earth this afternoon – missing by a mere 7,600 miles.
Asteroid 2011 MD approached Earth at 1 p.m. EDT a full three and-a-half hours later than astronomers first predicted, the AP reports.
The space agency had earlier predicted no probability of the asteroid striking the Earth. NASA's @AsteroidWatch tweeted last week: "There is no chance that 2011 MD will hit Earth but scientists will use the close pass as opportunity to study it w/ radar observations."
But according to NASA, the asteroid was in a very earth-like orbit about the Sun, closer to the Earth than the Moon. And for a brief time, NASA predicted that the rock would be bright enough to be seen with even a modest-sized telescope.
Diagrams from the space agency indicate that the location of closest approach for Asteroid 2011 MD was between the southern tip of South Africa and Antartica. But astronomers from Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and the western Pacific were expected to see the approach, according to Wired.com.
Peter Lake blogged from Australia that he captured images of the asteroid streaking across on the sky on the evening of June 26. According to Lake's blog, his photos were taken using a 20-inch telescope in New Mexico controlled with his iPhone.
"Its not every day, that an asteroid misses by less than 3-5 earth Radii," Lake wrote on his blog.
While Asteroid 2011 MD was the most recent flyby, it is not the closest.
NASA reported that on Feb. 4, Asteroid 2011 CQ1 zipped past Earth at a record close distance: a scant 3,400 miles away. It was discovered by NASA only 14 hours before the rock approached Earth.
Asteroid 2011 MD was discovered only four days prior to its approach on June 22 by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research discovery team in New Mexico.
NASA said that an object the size of Asteroid 2011 MD is expected to come this close to Earth about every six years on average. Scientists say that when Asteroid 2011 MD makes another pass in 2022, an impact with Earth is possible.
A larger, 1,300-foot asteroid, Asteroid 2005 YU55, is expected to flash past Earth on Nov. 8, 2011.