NANJING, March 25 (Xinhua) -- An asteroid made a flyby of Earth earlier this week at a distance of about 144,000 km, the closest pass by a minor planet observed through telescopes, a Chinese observatory statement said.
The asteroid called 2020 FL2 flew past Earth at 04:38 a.m. Beijing Time on March 23, according to the International Asteroid Warning Network and the Minor Planet Center (MPC) under the International Astronomical Union.
Researchers at the Purple Mountain Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences discovered the asteroid on March 19 and reported it to the MPC. As of March 22, the object had been spotted by 15 international observation stations.
The newly discovered minor planet belongs to the Apollo group of asteroids and has an estimated diameter of about 20 meters, also the smallest near-Earth object spotted by telescope, said Zhao Haibin with the observatory on Wednesday.
This is the second asteroid discovered by the observatory this month that has flown by Earth.
On March 15, another asteroid made its way past Earth at 04:17 a.m. Beijing Time, at a distance of 328,000 km.
"Given its small size and that it was flying from the direction of the sun, the asteroid was more difficult to observe than others," said Zhao, adding that the object was first spotted on March 17, two days after it flew by Earth.
The observatory then reported it to the MPC, which confirmed the discovery and designated it 2020 FD2.
According to Zhao, the asteroid has a special orbit, an ellipse with a large eccentricity, which is close to the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and Jupiter.
Since the start of this year, Zhao's observatory has achieved fruitful findings of minor planets.
On Feb. 26, a telescope at the observatory captured images of an asteroid approaching Earth. With a temporary number 2020 DM4, it attracted considerable attention from scientists and the media when initial calculations indicated it was a potentially hazardous asteroid, which is capable of approaching Earth at a close distance.
Zhao attributed these discoveries to a monitoring and warning network of near-Earth objects operated by the observatory, and the use of advanced astronomical telescopes.
"It cannot be said that asteroid discoveries are more frequent this year than in the past," Zhao told Xinhua. "These findings just come from intensified monitoring efforts as well as good luck."