NASA astronomers discovered on Wednesday a new asteroid dubbed 2015 YB just as it was about to skim past Earth. The discovery of the asteroid came as a surprise because astronomers were unaware of the existence of the asteroid until two days before it approached at a relatively unpredictable course and skimmed past Earth at 2 a.m., Saturday, December 19.
Asteroid 2015 YB — estimated at about 20 meters across — nearly grazed Earth, passing at a distance of about 34,672 miles, a hair’s breadth on the cosmic scale of distances, less than 15 percent of the distance between Earth and Moon — 238,000 miles.
Nicknamed “The Flea,” in honor of the soccer star Lionel Messi, asteroid 2015 YB is in the size range of the Chelyabinsk meteor, a superbolide that entered Earth’s atmosphere over Russia on February 15, 2013 and exploded in the atmosphere — due to its high velocity and shallow angle of entry — with kinetic energy equivalent to about 500 kilotons of TNT (30 times the Hiroshima bomb) at an altitude of about 18.5 miles, causing a brilliant flash seen across Russia’s southern Ural region. The shock wave of the explosion damaged more than 7,000 buildings in six cities and injured about 1,500 people.
Depending on the altitude of explosion, an asteroid 20 meters across — as the Chelyabinsk meteor demonstrated — could cause considerable destruction and loss of lives if it explodes over a densely populated area the size of a town. An asteroid 50-60 meters across could destroy an area the size of Washington D.C.
“We will be asking, why, like Messi, it got through our best defenses until two days ago.”
According to a spokesperson for the Slooh Telescope Internet channel, 2015 YB passed very close, in the range of geosynchronous satellites.
“[The Satellite was] was discovered just two days ago… The size and speed of this asteroid makes it very difficult to track.”
Recent multiple cases of asteroids appearing out of the blues and whizzing past Earth at very close range continue to emphasize the danger to Earth posed by the loose cannons of rocks in our vicinity of space. For instance, a 600-meter (2,000 feet) rock — 2015 TB145 — recently gave astronomers a Halloween trick-or-treat, whizzing past on Saturday, October 31 at a distance of about 300,000 miles (480,000 kilometers).
Asteroid 2015 TB145, nicknamed “Spooky” or “Great Pumpkin,” because of its eerie skull-like appearance on radar, was unknown to astronomers until a week before its trick-or-treating close flyby of Earth.
The Inquisitr has also reported the expected close flyby of massive asteroid 163899 — also known as 2003 SD220 — on December 24, at a distance of about 6.7 million miles. The asteroid, first observed by NASA’s NEOWISE spacecraft on November 16, is considered a potentially hazardous asteroid and is included on a list of 17 “top priority” near-Earth asteroids for close observation.
Experts are concerned about asteroid 2003 SD220 — estimated at about 1.5 miles across — because it is one of the largest near-Earth asteroids making close approach to Earth this year. It is feared that the asteroid could come on a collision course with Earth in future flybys.
An asteroid in its size range could trigger earthquakes, tsunamis and cause continent-wide catastrophe.
Expanding awareness of our cosmic environment has helped to sharpen focus on the fact that we live in cosmic shooting gallery where we are exposed to considerable risk of a catastrophic impact event.
There are ongoing efforts to develop early warning systems by cataloguing the orbits of near-Earth asteroids. Space scientists and engineers are also working on feasible strategies to prevent what many consider an inevitable future impact. But the chilling realization that presently we have no means of defense in the event that we discover an asteroid large enough to cause considerable damage has sparked fear-mongering conspiracy theories lately.
[News5] SPACE GIFTS | Giant asteroid to pass by Earth and full moon on Christmas Eve https://t.co/eaCZ8jq0vq
— PHL News Online (@PHLNewsOnline) December 22, 2015
Online conspiracy theorists sparked mass hysteria earlier in the year with predictions that an asteroid impact in September would cause a mass extinction event. Conspiracy theorists claimed that governments were aware of the impending catastrophe but were covering up the information to prevent mass panic.
However, following failure of the prediction in September, conspiracy theorists shifted attention to subsequent perilously close flybys.
[Image via Alishevskikh/Wikimedia]