This is why we need an early warning system for asteroids.
A previously undiscovered space rock just narrowly missed hitting the Earth as it zoomed by mere hours after astronomers spotted it for the very first time. Saturday night, a 150-foot-long asteroid was spotted approaching Earth, and Sunday morning, it zoomed harmlessly by our planet at less than one-quarter of the distance to the moon.
This is why scientists established asteroid day two years ago, so people all over the world can come together and learn what they can do to protect our planet from falling space rocks.
The asteroid that almost hit Earth, dubbed 2016 QA2, was discovered by the SONEAR observatory in Brazil Saturday night and measured between 52- and 171-feet, according to EarthSky.org.
The asteroid was twice as big as the space rock that exploded over the Russian city Chelyabinsk in February, 2013, that injured 1,200 people and caused thousands in damages.
If it had struck the Earth, civilization wouldn’t have ended, but it would have caused some major damage. In 1908, for example, an asteroid about 130-feet across exploded over Siberia and flattened over 825-square miles of forest, according to Space.com.
A killer asteroid would need to measure at least 0.6 miles across to have a chance of ending all life on the planet, but NASA thinks it’s spotted 95 percent of those really big space rocks.
Scientists would expect an asteroid the size of 2016 QA2 to be super heated from friction in the Earth’s atmosphere and explode in the air about six miles above the ground.
The space rock came within 50,000 miles of hitting the planet; for comparison the moon is about 239,000 miles away. It falls into the Aten asteroid category for near Earth objects and has a weird orbit; although it circles the sun every 350 days, the space rock probably won’t head back toward our planet any time soon. It usually hangs out near further planetary regions.
A newly discovered ~20-meter asteroid, 2016 QB11, will make a close flyby of Earth tomorrow (3.5 Lunar Distance) pic.twitter.com/8F1gpr27M4
— Ron Baalke (@RonBaalke) August 30, 2016
Why wasn’t the asteroid spotted earlier?
Space is really big. NASA has entire programs devoted to searching the night sky for near Earth asteroids and the space agency thinks it’s spotted more than 90 percent of space rocks larger than 0.6 miles. As of August this year, NASA has spotted 14,677 near Earth objects and deemed 1,728 of them as potentially hazardous. And more are still out there just waiting to be discovered.
The Earth has no planetary defense grid to speak of, but there are governments on the planet that are searching for a way to shoot down or redirect any asteroid that threatens our world.
Russia, which seems to be a popular asteroid landing spot, has plans to fire Cold War-era ballistic missiles at near Earth asteroids to keep them from crashing into the planet. They’ve announced plans to test their planetary defense grid by shooting an ICBM at 99942 Apophis an asteroid scheduled to come dangerously close to Earth in 2036.
Instead of blowing things up, NASA is betting on its ability to nudge any potentially killer asteroids away from the planet with robotic spacecraft. Similar to NASA’s asteroid redirect mission, the project being developed would allow robotic ships to land on an asteroid and use its engines to nudge the space rock off course.
While that technology is being developed, Elon Musk and his SpaceX company have vowed to colonize Mars and make humanity a two planet race in case something bad happens to the Earth. NASA is also planning a manned Mars mission, but their program is over budget and behind schedule so it’s anyone’s guess whether they’ll make the trip as planned in 2030.
Bottom line: a small asteroid just safely passed Earth, hours after being discovered, and even though it was a close miss there’s nothing to worry about now.
[Image via ThinkStock]