An Asteroid Is Coming. Don’t Panic

Not to worry anyone, but tomorrow, an asteroid is headed our way. According to astronomers, there is no danger of it hitting the planet, but it will actually end up being closer to us than any asteroid ever observed. NASA estimates that at about 2:24 EST, Asteroid 2012 DA14, as it has been named, will be only about 17,200 miles from the Earth. It sounds like at lot, but to give you an idea of how close that is, satellites that are in geosynchronous orbit are 22,245 miles above the planet. So this 150-foot diameter space rock will come even closer than that while traveling at speed of about five miles per second. (Thankfully, no other satellites are in its path since they orbit much closer to Earth — the International Space Station, for example, orbits at an altitude of 240 miles.)

According to NASA, however, little DA14 could have made quite an impact if it made a direct hit:

Asteroid 2012 DA14 will not impact Earth, but if another asteroid of a size similar to that of 2012 DA14  were to impact Earth, it would release approximately 2.5 megatons of energy in the atmosphere and would be expected to cause regional devastation.

A comparison to the impact potential of an asteroid the size of 2012 DA14 could be made to the impact of a near-Earth object that occurred in 1908 in Tuguska, Siberia. Known in the asteroid community as the “Tunguska Event,” this impact of an asteroid just slightly smaller than 2012 DA14 (approximately 100 – 130 feet) is believed to have flattened about 825 square miles of forest in and around the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia.

Evidently this sort of thing is not unheard of. Scientists at NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office estimate that an asteroid the size of 2012 DA14 flies this close every 40 years on average and that one will impact Earth, on average, about once in every 1,200 years. But this time, we’re safe. Not even cell phones will be affected. So scientists will have a ball and we can breathe easy. No need to alert Bruce Willis.

And if you want to check out the asteroid as it goes by, there are quite a few sites that are providing live streaming of the event. Go science.

More Space Risk – Two Asteroids Streak Past Earth

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the risk of space debris in our earth’s atmosphere. Well, according to NASA’s scientists, two asteroids are going to streak by today, within the moon’s distance of Earth. One, which actually already passed by at 5:50 am EST, was estimated to be between 32 and 65 feet in diameter and came as close as 154,000 miles out. The other, which will pass by at approximately 4:40 pm EST is only about 2/3 the size of the first asteroid and expected to come slightly closer.

As the Economist states:

Don’t start looking to hitch a ride on that alien spaceship just yet, though. Neither has a chance of hitting the planet. True, the lunar orbit, with an average radius of 384,403 kilometers, is puny in cosmic terms, but similar near-misses aren’t all that uncommon. A 10-metre sized rock is expected to pass within lunar distance every day, on average. And once a decade, one is likely actually to strike Earth’s atmosphere, though most of these would burn up on entry to the extent that they pose little or no threat. This would probably have been the fate of the 6 metre 2004 FU162 spotted on March 31st, 2004, just hours before the meteoroid whizzed by a mere 6,500 kilometres from Earth, setting a new record for the closest observed near miss.

As we see, there are many risks that are far beyond our current realm. We monitor them all.


Asteroids Over Manhattan

It’s unlikely to happen — some say we’ll never see it, some say it’s inevitable and right around the corner. Either way — if a comet does in fact hit the United States and, more specifically, Manhattan, it is expected to cause $1 trillion in damage and 3.2 million deaths.

This is according to Risk Management Solutions, the Newark, California-based catastrophe modeling company. They based their study on the 1908 asteroid explosion that rocked Siberia. The Tunguska Event, as it’s often referred to, occurred near the Tunguska River and knocked over an estimated 80 million trees covering 830 square miles. Several amazing eyewitness accounts of the event are listed here.

The entire RMS report is available here. I highly recommend it as it includes a history of the Tunguska event, along with probabilities of such an event happening again and an in-depth analysis of insurance implications for this type of catastrophe.