A prominent astrophysicist warned that we are likely to suffer an extinction event with an unseen asteroid in the future. Governments around the Earth are spending more money to find and identify rogue meteors, comets and asteroids, the fact is that we have close calls several times a year and many of them “come out of nowhere”. Already this year, we have had four close calls, one of which was only about 11,000 miles from our planet. Fortunately, that one was relatively small but could have easily devastated a large city or created a devastating tidal wave.
Professor Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer at the Queen’s University Belfast Astrophysics Research Center highlighted the threat ahead of Asteroid Day on June 30, according to a story in Phys.org. June 30th was chosen as Asteroid Day because it is the 109th anniversary of the day Russia was struck by the largest explosion crated by an asteroid in recorded history.
That collision is designated as the “Tunguska event” in Siberia. The blast was so large, it is generally estimated to have been about 10 megatons. No injuries were reported, but some 80 million trees over 830 square miles were leveled. “Astronomers find Near-Earth Asteroids every day but most are harmless,” said Fitzsimmons. “But it is still possible the next Tunguska would take us by surprise.”
While major advancements have been made in detecting these rogue planet killers, they’re still a major danger. Currently over 1,800 potentially hazardous objects have been discovered so far, but there are many more waiting to be found.
Last year NASA opened the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) which formalizes the agency’s program for detecting and tracking near-Earth Objects, or NEOs. The office is located in Washington, and works with FEMA and other federal agencies and departments.
But finding them in time is still the big problem. NASA has been working on planetary defense for some time, at least the theory of it. But just how much time is enough? Twice this year, major asteroids have “come out of no where”, both were spotted just 4 days away from the earths orbit. One of them passed just over a million miles away, but the other passed inside the distance of the Moon’s orbit, a very close call.
Scientists say that on Saturday, an asteroid named (441987) 2010 NY65 will fly past Earth at a safe distance, this time. The space rock, which is the size of a skyscraper is classified as a “potentially hazardous asteroid”, by NASA who says it poses no “immediate” danger. The asteroid will approach within just over 8 times the distance between the center of the Earth and the center of the Moon. It will continue making yearly “close” approaches to Earth through 2022.
Regardless of Government preparations, the fact remains that a shroud of secrecy surrounds these close encounters. Rarely is the public informed until after they have safely passed by us. That leaves the question “Just how sure are the scientists about their projections of the path of the planet killers?”