A previously undetected asteroid passed by Earth on Thursday, hurtling through the ring of satellites that encircle the planet and traveling onward, according to NASA. The space agency said that the asteroid, designated 2017 EA, had been detected only six hours before it whizzed past the planet.
Fortunately (“luckily” was how the Daily Mail phrased it) for Earth and its 7.4 billion people, the asteroid was estimated to be only about 10-feet wide, which, given what is known about prior asteroid/meteor impactors, would have done relatively minor damage had it survived somewhat intact after entry through the Earth’s atmosphere. But it is just that near-miss fly-by that gives experts pause when considering what a space rock just five- to 10-times the size of 2017 EA could do to the Earth if its path were a bit more direct.
Not that anything could have been done with just six hours notice of its arrival.
It is a scenario NASA scientists (and scientists around the world) have confronted for some time, one where NASA scientist Joseph Nuth bluntly told colleagues in San Francisco in December, as reported by the Inquisitr, “The biggest problem, basically, is there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it at the moment.” He was bemoaning the fact that Earth had inadequate defenses to mitigate the approach of what he referred to as a “dinosaur killer” asteroid (one large enough to alter life on Earth), for which the planet was somewhat overdue.
Nuth noted in his presentation at a conference designed to address potential detection and deflection defensive methods that there exists nothing in place worldwide that could realistically be used to protect Earth unless given several years to mount the mitigation strategy. The scientist said that, at present, design-to-launch vehicles take an average of five years to reach actualization. Asteroids reaching the dimensions of at least 35 meters (115 feet) in diameter are considered large enough to destroy a city on direct impact, but there is nothing to nudge or deflect such an asteroid from its course, nor is there anything ready to destroy it.
As noted, 2017 EA soared just 9,000 miles (14,500 kilometers) above the eastern Pacific Ocean, according to NASA. It reached its nearest point at 6:04 a.m. PST on Thursday morning. The space rock was detected by Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona, which is funded by NASA, only just six hours prior to its closest approach, according to the space agency’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies.
As the Daily Mail pointed out, the Earth has been buzzed by four other asteroids already this year, all coming within 165,000 miles of hitting the planet. The closest of the four, Asteroid 2017 BH30, came within 32,200 miles (51,820 kilometers) of Earth on January 30, according to Space.com. It was 19 feet in diameter, roughly the size of a pick-up truck, and had been detected only hours before it flew by.
Another, 2017 AG13, passed at its closest approach at 126,461 miles (203,520 kilometers) was as large as a 10-story building, large enough to fit the city-killer description should an asteroid of its size actually impact the Earth. It passed by on January 8, having been discovered just two days prior to its passage by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona.
Asteroid 2017 EA, the latest near-miss asteroid, quickly passed into the daytime sky shortly after its closest approach and then out of sight of ground-based telescopes. The 10-foot object was detected by a number of observatories before entering Earth’s shadow. Astronomers say its orbit has now been plotted “quite accurately.”
But the smaller asteroids, though giving everyone pause for thought, are not the objects that worry the scientists. At least not until they get to city-killer size (at least 35 meters, 115 feet in diameter).
Experts designate an asteroid or comet a Potentially Hazardous Object (PHO) if it is at least 100 meters (330 feet) wide. These objects are of a size that could potentially do regional devastation should they impact the planet. NASA estimates that only 30 percent of these massive space rocks or comets have been discovered.
But even though scientists discuss the need for asteroid defense systems and various ways to mitigate an incoming asteroid approach path, when such a system will be in place to at least have a chance at protecting the planet from a potential impact is unknown.
[Featured Image by MarcelClemens/Shutterstock]