'City killer' asteroid safely passes between Earth and moon

'City killer' asteroid safely passes between Earth and moon
Photo credit: YouTube / The Virtual Telescope Project

An asteroid large enough to destroy a city has safely passed between Earth and the moon - and luckily didn't collide with either.

The asteroid, 2023 DZ2, was discovered in February by astronomers at an observatory in La Palma in the Canary Islands. Since then, experts have continued to observe the asteroid to better estimate its size and orbit.

NASA said the asteroid is about 43-95 metres wide and passed by Earth more than 161,000 kilometres away on Sunday morning (NZ time).

An asteroid of this size passing Earth in a close approach only happens about once per decade, NASA said.

The space agency added it was a chance for astronomers to learn as much as they could about this asteroid in a short space of time.

"There is no chance of this 'city killer' striking Earth, but its close approach offers a great opportunity for observations," Richard Moissl, planetary defence chief of the European Space Agency, told the BBC.

Moissl said preliminary data showed 2023 DZ2 was a "scientifically interesting object", but more research was needed to determine the asteroid's composition.

The asteroid will return to Earth's orbit in 2026, but it won't be a threat to us.

Earlier this month, a smaller asteroid was discovered that could hit Earth in 2046. Although, it was later found this is also no longer a threat and will instead pass us about 4.3 million kilometres away.

But even if asteroids become a threat to Earth, we're no longer defenceless. Last year, NASA's double asteroid redirection test (DART) spacecraft deliberately slammed into the asteroid Dimorphos and successfully altered its orbit.

It was the first time the motion of a celestial object was purposely changed and a full-scale demonstration of asteroid deflection technology was carried out.