Astronomers detected four potentially hazardous asteroids that will nearly plunge on the Earth’s surface. However, they were only able to identify them when they were already too close for comfort, highlighting the call for better asteroid-hunting tools to be established.
The four asteroids will start making its close approaches to Earth today, October 1, astronomers say. Of the four, three of which were discovered just hours before entering the Earth-moon system, which signifies that in the instance that these asteroids were to collide with Earth, we could not have had any other choice but succumb to its wrath.
Astronomers discovered asteroid 2019 SM8 at the Mount Lemmon Observatory in Arizona on Monday (September 30) and flew by Earth today at approximately 9:56 a.m. EDT (1356 GMT), according to NASA. At its closest, it was about 99,000 miles (159,000 kilometers) from Earth, or slightly less than half the average distance between Earth and the moon. NASA estimated that this asteroid is about 16 feet (4.8 meters) in diameter, about the size of an SUV.
After another hour, a newly discovered asteroid called Asteroid 2019 SE8 made its close approach to Earth but kept a distance slightly farther than Asteroid 2019 SM8. Similar to before, Asteroid 2019 SE8 was first discovered at Mount Lemmon just a few hours before it made its closest approach to Earth on October 1 at approximately 11:12 a.m. EDT (1512 GMT). At its closest, the asteroid was about 674,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers) from Earth. That’s nearly three times the average Earth-moon distance, to which astronomers determined as non-threatening compared to the former. Asteroid 2019 SE8 is a bit bigger than the last asteroid, and NASA estimates that it’s about 47 feet (14 meters) across.
Later tonight, yet another newfound asteroid, 2019 SD8, will pass about 331,000 miles (532,000 km) from Earth at 10:29 p.m. EDT (0229 GMT on October 2). This asteroid, on the other hand, was found by the Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Arizona, also just a day before its close approach to Earth. At about 38 feet (12 m) wide, it’s the size of a city bus.
Asteroid 2018 FK5 is the only known asteroid flying by Earth today that NASA already knew about long before its arrival. This rock is also the most distant one: passing more than 3 million miles (5 million km) from Earth tonight at 6:56 p.m. EDT (2256 GMT). Astronomers at Mt. Lemmon discovered this 24-foot-wide (7 m) asteroid just two days before it flew by Earth on March 2018.
Though none of these asteroids had much of a chance of hitting Earth today, NASA still classifies them as “potentially hazardous asteroids” because they potentially have enough power to cause mass destruction when the do hit Earth. Notably, even if they do not collide with Earth today, they will remain in orbit that will likely do so in the future.
Ever since an asteroid dubbed as “city killer” almost crashed on Earth, which scientists barely noticed in August, the international space community has been faced with pressures of formulating new methods to detect and hopefully prevent any other future asteroid from colliding with Earth.
Notably, the “city killer” asteroid was traveling at 15 miles per second, the giant space rock designated as Asteroid “2019 OK” missed Earth by just 45,000 miles. To put that into perspective, the moon is about 240,000 miles away.
Asteroid Collision Prevention Efforts
Putting more emphasis on defending Earth from galactic harm, NASA has initially moved to put additional funding of $19M to the Arecibo Observatory.
The grant will be used to conduct maintenance and repairs for the facility, which is used to observe and characterize near-Earth objects that could pose a potential threat to the planet or maybe viable candidates for future space missions.
The Arecibo Observatory has since detected these threat-posing asteroids or popularly known as near-Earth objects or NEOs since the 1990s.
Approximately, the observatory discovers about 60 to 120 of these objects every year.
The funding given by the space agency to the Arecibo Observatory should help in collecting data and determining if one of these NEOs pose a threat to Earth in the future. These data should also help NASA in formulating solutions on how to mitigate the potential risk.
In a more invasive research and experiment, the European Space Agency is also working with NASA to develop an asteroid-deterrence measure called the Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA) project, which aims to send a spacecraft to move Earth-heading asteroids.
As of the moment, development for that is well on the way and NASA has already begun construction for the spacecraft collider called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). Meanwhile, an Italian CubeSat called LICIACube will be used to study the moment of impact, taking vital data of the force and after-effects of the collision, that will determine if the effort is effective or not.