A newfound asteroid gave Earth a close shave early today, zipping between our planet and the moon just two days after astronomers first spotted it.
The near-Earth asteroid 2012 XE54, which was discovered Sunday (Dec. 9), came within 140,000 miles (230,000 kilometers) of our planet at about 5 a.m. EST (1000 GMT) Tuesday (Dec. 11), researchers said. For comparison, the moon orbits Earth at an average distance of 240,000 miles or so (386,000 km).
Astronomers estimate that 2012 XE54 is about 120 feet (36 meters) wide — big enough to cause substantial damage if it slams into Earth someday. An object of similar size flattened 800 square miles (2,000 square km) of forest when it exploded above Siberia's Podkamennaya Tunguska River in 1908.
Asteroid 2012 XE54 also passed through Earth's shadow a few hours before its closest approach, generating an eclipse on the space rock's surface, researchers said. [Video: Asteroid 2012 XE54 Flies Closer Than Moon]