After finding two massive asteroids with the potential to do extensive damage to the Earth in a previously undiscovered branch of the Taurid Meteor Shower, a couple of scientists are now warning that there could possibly be more of these Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) hidden in the cometary debris field and they could very well be on a trajectory to collide with Earth in the near future.
The Daily Mail reported that researchers from the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Science have found two giant asteroids, 2015 TX24 and 2005 UR, in the debris field of what they are calling a dangerous branch of cometary fragments left behind by the passage of Encke’s Comet, which, according to Space, orbits the Sun every 3.3 years. And although those asteroids are listed as PHAs (both measuring from 200 to 300 meters — 650 to 900 feet — across) and are being tracked, it is the asteroids that have yet to be detected in the debris field, some of which become part of the Taurid Meteor Shower, that worries the Czech scientists.
The researchers published their findings — and fears — on Arxiv, stating in the paper, “Since asteroids of sizes of tens to hundreds meters pose a treat [sic, ‘threat’] to the ground even if they are intrinsically weak, impact hazard increases significantly when the Earth encounters the Taurid new branch every few years.”
The scientists figured out that Earth will interact with the dangerous branch of the Taurids in 2022, 2025, 2032, and 2039. (It should be noted that the Earth experiences a Taurid Meteor Shower every year in late October and early November.)
As Space.com pointed out, even though scientists have calculated that fragments of the comet could be of a size large enough to remain somewhat intact after the plunge through Earth’s atmosphere, an actual Taurid meteorite has yet to be found. In fact, Space.com referred to such a find as the “holy grail of meteorites.”
But if the warnings of the researchers at the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Science bear fruit, it might just be only a matter of time before a hazardous asteroid loses its “potential” status and becomes and actual hazardous asteroid. The Daily Mail pointed out that the 1908 Tunguska Event was believed to have been caused by the passage and detonation of a Taurid meteor. That particular space rock is believed to have detonated in the air some six miles up in the atmosphere. Its blast was estimated to equal the energy of 185 Hiroshima atomic bombs, leveling some 80 million trees in remote lower Siberia.
The Czech researchers warned that if an as-yet undetected massive asteroid, a PHA, actually made it through to impact Earth, the results could be catastrophic. To put the Tunguska meteor in perspective, it has been estimated to have been about 45 meters (148 feet) across. The Inquisitr reported in March that in an earlier study conducted by InsuranceQuotes, it was calculated that an asteroid just slightly larger than the two detected by the Czech scientists, if it impacted the city of San Francisco, would result in the deaths of about 9 million people.
But the PHA would not have to be anywhere near that large to do extensive damage. It would simply have to make a direct hit on a densely populated urban area. In fact, potential impactors measuring 140 meters — 459 feet — and smaller are known as “city killers” by Congress, according to Stanford University physicist Richard Blandford (per Space News).
Any asteroid measuring over 100 meters (328 feet) is considered by NASA to be a PHA.
It is estimated that there are less than 5,000 PHAs greater than 100 meters in diameter that exist in near-Earth orbit. However, it is believed that 20 to 30 percent of those asteroids that have yet to be found.
[Featured Image by Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock]