|Discovered by||Catalina Sky Srvy.|
|Discovery site||Catalina Stn.|
|Discovery date||14 April 2018|
(first observed only)
|NEO · Apollo |
|Orbital characteristics |
|Epoch 23 March 2018 (JD 2458200.5)|
|Uncertainty parameter 7|
|Observation arc||4 days|
|2.51 yr (918 d)|
|0° 23m 32.28s / day|
|Earth MOID||0.0010 AU (0.3896 LD)|
|Mercury MOID||0.0101 AU|
|Venus MOID||0.0556 AU|
|Mars MOID||0.0527 AU|
48 m (est. at 0.24)
100 m (est. at 0.05)
2018 GE3 is a sub-kilometer asteroid on a highly eccentric orbit, classified as a near-Earth object of the Apollo group, approximately 48–110 meters (160–360 feet) in diameter. It was first observed on 14 April 2018, by astronomers with the Catalina Sky Survey one day prior to its sub-lunar close encounter with Earth at 0.5 lunar distance. It is one of the largest known asteroids (possibly the largest) in observational history to ever pass that close to Earth (also see list).
2018 GE3 is a member of the near-Earth population of asteroids known as Apollos. Apollo asteroids cross the orbit of Earth and are the largest group of near-Earth objects with nearly 10 thousand known members. Based on an observation arc of 4 days, it orbits the Sun at a distance of 0.3–3.4 AU once every 2 years and 6 months (918 days; semi-major axis of 1.85 AU). Its orbit has an unusually high eccentricity of 0.83 and an inclination of 9° with respect to the ecliptic. It is also a Mercury-, Venus- and Mars-crosser, reaching its furthest point from the Sun in the outer asteroid belt. The body's observation arc begins at Steward Observatory's Catalina Station with its first observation in April 2018.
In observational history, and other than possibly 2002 MN and 2017 VW13, this asteroid is the largest known object to ever pass that close to Earth, as well as the Moon (also see History of closest approaches of large near-Earth objects).[a] 99942 Apophis will break both of these records when it approaches only 0.098 LD (0.000252 AU) from Earth on 13 April 2029.
It had been more than 120 degrees from the Sun since March 2018, but was simply too far and too faint to be detected by automated surveys. Despite coming from directly away from the Sun, it was not discovered until 14 April 2018, only one day prior to its closest approach. If the most advanced survey telescopes had been looking at its location, it could have been discovered as early as 30 March. On 15 April 2018, at 06:41 UT, this object passed Earth at a nominal distance of 0.50 LD (0.001289 AU) which corresponds to a distance of 193,000 kilometres (120,000 miles), at a speed of 29.5 km/s (66,000 mph). The object also approached the Moon at an even closer distance of 0.34 LD (0.00087 AU) a few hours later, at 09:59 UT.
It was the 32nd known asteroid to flyby Earth within 1 lunar distance (LD) since the start of 2018 and 16th closest, although it was the largest known asteroid to pass within half a lunar distance. After closest approach its apparent magnitude dropped from 12 to 35 in less than 12 hours, heading towards the Sun. Coming from the opposite direction, it would have been impossible to observe before its approach. A preliminary analysis of the orbit of 2018 GE3 shows that this is the closest this particular asteroid has come to Earth since at least 1930.
Asteroid 2002 MN passed closer to Earth than 2018 GE3 in 2002, and had a brighter absolute magnitude (H) of 23.6, and could be either larger or smaller than 2018 GE3, depending on their albedos and thus exact sizes. 2017 VW13 (H=20.7) may have also passed closer in 2001, although the distance of its approach is very uncertain and it was not discovered until 2017.
The diameter can only be estimated based on the brightness and distance. The albedo is currently unknown. Based on a generic magnitude-to-diameter conversion, 2018 GE3 measures between 48–100 meters (157–328 feet) in diameter, for an absolute magnitude of 23.8, and an assumed albedo between 0.05 and 0.24, which represent typical values for carbonaceous and stony asteroids, respectively.
This asteroid is about three to six times the diameter of the meteor that exploded in the skies above Chelyabinsk, Russia in February 2013, which damaged over 7,200 buildings and injured 1,500 people, mostly from flying glass. If an asteroid of this size were to enter Earth's atmosphere, a good portion of it would likely disintegrate due to friction with the air. The remnants could survive entry however and impact the surface, thus causing regional damage dependent on various factors such as composition, speed, entry angle, and location of impact.