Four previously unknown asteroids have whizzed by Earth this year passing between our planet and the moon and coming within a cosmic hairsbreadth of our world shortly before astronomers spotted them for the first time.
None of these space rocks were a particular threat to our planet and it’s not time to buy asteroid insurance just yet, but scientists are worried because they seemingly appeared out of nowhere.
Oh, and if the asteroids were large enough to be planet killers, we would still have had no way of shooting them down, as Slooh Astronomer Paul Cox wrote on the observatory’s blog.
“It raises a few eyebrows when we see a number of close approaching NEAs over such a short period of time.”
Asteroid 2017 BS32, a space rock measuring between 36 and 82 feet across, flew by our planet Feb 2 a mere 101,000 miles away from Earth mere days after astronomers spotted it for the first time.
Even though the space rock passed between our planet and the moon, which is about 225,000 miles away from Earth, it was relatively harmless and wouldn’t have caused much damage even if it struck our world.
What’s concerning is 2017 BS32 has been hanging out with other potentially dangerous asteroids.
A large truck-sized asteroid, 2017 BH30, flew by Earth on January 30 a mere 32,200 miles away from our planet. The asteroid wasn’t particularly big as space rocks go, only about 19 feet across, but again no one on Earth saw it coming until it was almost on top of us
About a week before that, on January 25, an asteroid named 2017 AG13, measuring 50 to 110 feet across, passed between Earth and the moon at a distance of 110,000 miles away. That makes it about the size of the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russian skies in 2013 causing more than $30 million in damages.
A few days before that, Jan 20, asteroid 2017 BX, measuring 10 to 40 feet across, flew by the Earth a mere 16,252 miles from our planet.
While NASA says it’s spotted most of the dangerous asteroids floating around near our planet, the space agency admits it hasn’t found them all, as astronomy expert Antonio Paris told SpaceDaily.
“The larger these things are, the easier they are to spot. It’s the little ones that we tend to not really find. And when we do, it’s a little too late.”
What concerns scientists the most is the potential arrival of a previously unknown planet-killer asteroid showing up with little to no warning.
It’s not time to buy asteroid insurance just yet, however, as space rocks pass near our planet every day. In fact, there are so many asteroids zooming by Earth astronomers at the Minor Planet Center have set up a daily newsletter to keep the public informed, as center director Matt Holman told Space.com.
“Most people don’t realize how common asteroid flybys are. We want the Daily Minor Planet to educate readers in an entertaining way, so the next time they see a doom-and-gloom asteroid headline, they’ll know where to go to find the facts.”
Still, the idea of an asteroid impact is something to be concerned about and the White House ordered the federal government to begin work on a plan to prevent such a catastrophe.
The result was the “National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy” released earlier this year and developed by the Interagency Working Group for Detecting and Mitigating the Impact of Earth-bound Near-Earth Objects.
The working group crafted a seven-part plan to increase observation and tracking technology, prepare to deflect dangerous incoming space rocks, and in the event of an impact, respond to the emergency with communication protocols and rapid response teams.
NASA has some idea of how it would deflect an incoming space rock, although the technology isn’t quite there yet, which is where OSRISIS-Rex mission to the asteroid Bennu comes in.
The space probe will gather samples from the asteroid and return the material to Earth in 2023.
Then there’s the European Space Agency’s Asteroid Impact Mission, planned for 2020, which aims to crash a probe into a far away asteroid just to see what happens. The data gathered on the impact could one day help scientists protect the Earth from a global killer.
An international project, led by Spain’s National Research Council, is studying the chemical composition of the Chelyabinsk meteor to better understand what would happen if we tried to shoot down an incoming space rock.
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[Featured Image by Elenarts/Thinkstock]