Asteroid Zips Safely Past Earth In Surprise Visit — Rock Was Too Small To Do Much Damage

If Asteroid 2013 TX68, nicknamed “B2Bomber,” had been much bigger, human civilization would’ve come to a surprising end on Monday night. But the stealthy space rock slipped safely past Earth with no harm done, a couple days earlier than NASA predicted.

Luckily, the asteroid was too small to inflict apocalyptic damage, but it would’ve been a doozy if it came closer to Earth. It was about 100 feet in diameter, a bit bigger than the asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, three years ago, NBC News reported.

“If an asteroid the size of 2013 TX68 were to enter Earth’s atmosphere, it would likely produce an air burst with about twice the energy of the Chelyabinsk event,” NASA said.

The Chelyabinsk asteroid damaged buildings and caused injuries to 1,000 people.

Most asteroids, like B2Bomber, pass by safely without much worry. This one didn’t cause any concern at NASA either, even though they couldn’t pin down exactly when it would whizz safely past Earth.

The asteroid was first spotted on October 6, 2013, and NASA could only track it for three days before it passed into the daytime sky, the Washington Post reported. Therefore, the timing of when it would safely pass us by and how close it would come remained uncertain.

The yacht-sized asteroid was first estimated to safely fly past Earth on March 5. More data pushed that date to March 8, the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies Propulsion Laboratory (CNEOS) predicted. Its distance from Earth was also uncertain; the agency forecasted anywhere between 15,000 to three million miles.

Despite the wide range, CNEOS manage Paul Chodas wasn’t very worried ahead of the arrival.

“There is no concern whatsoever regarding this asteroid — unless you were interested in seeing it with a telescope.”

According to Space.com, the asteroid dashed safety past and away from our planet at 8:42 a.m. Monday at a very safe distance of 2.54 million miles. Researchers at the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, estimated its diameter at 56 to 177 feet.

This asteroid flew safely by Earth two years ago and remained about 1.3 million miles away. It’ll zip safely past three more times — in 2017, 2046, and 2097. Each flyby will be uneventful, as data has confirmed that the asteroid is not on a collision course with Earth at least in the next 100 years.

However, NASA initially thought the TX68 could hit our planet next year. Even if it did, human civilization will require a much larger asteroid to wipe us out and inflict planet-wide devastation. Scientists estimate that an asteroid would need to be a half-mile wide to threaten our existence. If such an asteroid did strike Earth, rather than safely zip by and into the emptiness of space, the changes to our climate would ultimately kill us.

The impact of an object that size would likely stir up enough dust and soot to create a mini ice age that would last several years.

And NASA is keeping a close eye on the skies. About 14,000 near-Earth objects have been spotted and are being closely monitored. Of those, 611 near-Earth asteroids are on the agency’s Sentry Risk Table, or those objects that could potentially hit us in the future.

B2Bomber won’t be one of them.

“The risk — as we understand it right now — is minimal is probably on the order of 1-in-300 million or so,” assured program officer Rob Landis.

“Right now — we are not tracking any asteroid or comet on a path to strike the Earth.”

But just in case an asteroid is headed for Earth, scientists are drilling into the crater left behind by the behemoth rock that slammed into the Yucatan millions of years ago and killed the dinosaurs. They’re hoping to uncover lessons about how life can rebound after a cataclysmic event.

[Image via solarseven/Shutterstock]