Sunday, 16 th August was Kriti Sharma’s third day on a research project to search for Near Earth Asteroids. She and Kunal Deshmukh were analyzing ZTF data on Sunday afternoon, they reported five “streaks” in the data as potential asteroids. Little did they know that one of them was a record-breaking asteroid? “The data looked like all other Near Earth Asteroids we have seen so far”, said Kunal – a final year student in the department of Metallurgy and Materials Science at IIT Bombay.
Kunal Deshmukh, a student at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay had been scanning that day’s images along with Kritti Sharma, also at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and Chen-Yen Hsu at National Central University in Taiwan.
Asteroid 2020 QG is about 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 meters) across, or roughly the size of an SUV, so it was not big enough to do any damage even if it had been pointed at Earth, instead it would have burned up in our planet’s atmosphere. The asteroid flew close enough to Earth that Earth’s gravity significantly changed its orbit, says ZTF co-investigator Tom Prince. Asteroids of this size fly roughly as close to Earth as 2020 QG do occur about once a year or less, but many of them are never detected.
Designated 2020 QG, it is the closest known asteroid to fly by Earth without impacting the planet. The previous known record-holder is asteroid 2011 CQ1, discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey in 2011,