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Leap day asteroid zooms harmlessly past Earth

A small asteroid about the size of a house made one cosmic leap past Earth Wednesday, just in time for leap day.
This NASA graphic depicts the orbit of asteroid 2012 DS32, which zoomed past Earth on Wednesday.
This NASA graphic depicts the orbit of asteroid 2012 DS32, which zoomed past Earth on Wednesday.NASA/JPL
/ Source: Space.com

A small asteroid about the size of a house made one cosmic leap past Earth Wednesday, just in time for leap day.

The newfound asteroid 2012 DS32 posed no chance of hitting our planet but made an evening pass to mark this special day for Earth, NASA scientists said.

"Happy Leap Day! Small asteroid 2012 DS32 will safely pass Earth at 7:36 p.m. EST," astronomers with NASA's Asteroid Watch program wrote in a Twitter post. The Asteroid Watch program is part of the Near Earth Object office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. 

The asteroid 2012 DS32 is about 61 feet (about 18.5 meters) across. At the nearest point, the asteroid zoomed within about 446,000 miles (717,767 kilometers) of the planet, which is slightly less than twice the distance between Earth and the moon. The average Earth-moon distance is about 238,000 miles (382,900 kilometers).

While it was still officially leap day in the United States during the asteroid's flyby, the calendar had already turned to March 1 in Europe and other areas farther east, up to the International Date Line.

Leap day is an extra 29th day added to the month of February every four years in order to keep the Gregorian calendar of months and days aligned with the Earth's seasons. A year with a leap day is known as a leap year.

NASA scientists and other teams of astronomers routinely hunt for space rocks such as 2012 DS32 as part of an ongoing search for potentially hazardous asteroids that could pose a threat of impacting Earth.

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