News of a 10-mile-wide killer asteroid hurtling toward Earth burned up the internet this week after a Chinese astronomer announced that the massive space rock could potentially impact the planet with enough force to cause an extinction event.
But there is worse news: Although asteroid 2009ES, the designation of the aforementioned killer asteroid, is currently predicted to make a near-miss pass by the Earth, there are other killer asteroids hurtling through space with the potential to become impactors. And experts believe one will pass closer than half the distance to the Moon less than 13 years from now.
The Daily Star broke the story of asteroid 2009ES, a massive chunk of space rock that astronomers admit to not having an accurate assessment of its trajectory through the solar system. Currently, it is estimated that the potential killer asteroid will pass to within 18.8 lunar distances (the distance from the Earth’s center to the center of the Moon) of our planet. That estimate will be almost certainly be altered as new tracking information becomes available.
Zhao Haibin, an astronomer with the Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing, China, using China’s largest telescope, tracked and photographed 2009ES to get the latest estimate. In an interview with the Daily Star, Haibin noted that using instruments like the 1.2-metre Schmidt telescope camera has given astronomers a tool with which to better assess threats to the Solar System.
If it were to impact Earth, experts believe that the killer asteroid would release enough energy to equal 3 billion nuclear bombs.
As Inquistr previously reported, killer asteroid 2009ES is one of the many Potentially Hazardous Asteroids being monitored by NASA and the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center. At present, there are over 1,640 detected space objects being tracked that come within relative close proximity of Earth.
Among those potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) is 101955 Bennu, an asteroid named after the Egyptian mythological deity (depicted as a heron) of creation and rebirth. Asteroid Bennu, as can be seen in the Minor Planet Center’s list of “PHA Close Approaches To The Earth,” will come within 0.005 Astronomical Units of Earth (less than half a million miles, or less than two Lunar Distances) in 2060. As the Inquisitr reported in August, NASA currently has a scheduled mission to send a spacecraft to Bennu, which measures 492 meters (less than a third of a mile) in diameter, to obtain samples and return to Earth by 2023.
But asteroid 101955 Bennu, at least in its current trajectory, seems a far less dangerous object than asteroid 99942 Apophis, which measures 325 meters (1,066 feet) across. According to the Minor Planet Center’s list, Apophis, named after the Egyptian deity of chaos, will pass within 0.00026 Astronomical Units (24168.5 miles, or just over three Earth diameters) of our planet.
Any slight deviation in the course of any of the asteroids could easily place them on a heading that could see them impact the Earth, causing untold devastation (dependent, of course, on the actual point of impact). Although asteroids Bennu and Apophis are nowhere near the size of the 10-mile-wide 2009ES, their potential to cause catastrophic damage to the planet is still considerable.
For a point of reference, the Chelyabinsk meteor that detonated in the skies over Russia in 2013 was estimated to measure only 20 meters in diameter. As detailed in the “Damage Assessment” report posted to Science magazine, the Chelyabinsk meteor disintegrated roughly 30 miles above the Earth’s surface with the force of about 500 kilotons of TNT (or roughly 29 Hiroshima atomic bombs), damaged hundreds of buildings and sent over 1,500 people in search of medical care.
NASA and other agencies are currently working on various responses to a potential impact event and killer asteroids like 2009ES remind us that life on planet Earth is rather fragile. Thinking that those potentially hazardous asteroids can be tracked with plenty of time to do something to save the planet should be qualified by this: The Chelyabinsk meteor simply appeared in the Russian skies without warning, undetected because it came from the direction of the Sun, in February 2013. And 10-mile-wide 2009ES? Despite its immense size, that potential killer asteroid was just discovered in 2009 (hence its designation).
[Featured Image by sdecoret/NASA/Shutterstock]