Asteroid 2012 DA14, as large as an Olympic swimming pool, has raced past the Earth at a distance of just 17,200 miles – the closest ever predicted for an object of that size.
The asteroid passed far closer even than the geosynchronous satellites that orbit the Earth, but there was no risk of impacts or collisions.
Its closest approach was at 19:25 GMT.
For regions in darkness, it should remain visible until about midnight through good binoculars or a telescope.
The asteroid’s arrival was preceded by a damaging meteor event in Russia on Friday – but indications from the meteor’s path suggest that the two events are entirely unrelated – just a “cosmic coincidence”, as Alan Fitzsimmons of Queens University Belfast said.
Asteroid 2012 DA14 has raced past the Earth at a distance of just 17,200 miles
Asteroid 2012 DA14 orbits the Sun in 368 days – a period similar to Earth’s year – but it does not orbit in the same plane as the Earth.
As it passes – at 17,450 mi/hr – it will come from “under” the Earth and return back toward the Sun from “above”.
The asteroid passed directly over the eastern Indian Ocean, making for the best viewing in Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia.
But keen viewers everywhere used several live streams of the event on the internet, including a feed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA.
2012 DA14 was first spotted in February 2012 by astronomers at the La Sagra Sky Survey in Spain – once a fairly small-scale, amateur effort to discover and track asteroids that has in recent years become a significant contributor to our knowledge of these “near-Earth objects”.