Posted on March 23, 2014
|^ THIS is so much better than THAT. v|
In 1989, an asteroid larger than an aircraft carrier whistled by the Earth, missing all of us by about 400,000 miles (640,000 km)!
It was traveling 46,000 miles per hour!
The asteroid passed through the exact spot where the Earth was just six hours before!
But...it may surprise you to know that the asteroid, called 4581 Asclepius, wasn't even discovered by scientists until AFTER it had passed!
If we had gotten hit, it would have been a huge shock—in more ways than one—we hadn't even seen it coming!
That near miss, which we didn't even know about until we were out of danger, acted as a wake-up call. The U.S. Congress directed NASA to study near-Earth objects such as asteroids and comets, to determine as exactly as possible their orbits. It also directed NASA to come up with some strategies of how to deal with a space rock that turns out to be on a trajectory to hit us.
The public got interested in the topic of a possible city-ending—or even civilization-ending, or world-ending—impact. There have been at least six (count 'em, six!) movies about space rocks hitting—or threatening to hit—the Earth since 1989: Deep Impact, Armageddon, Meteorites, Asteroid, Doomsday Rock, and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
Of course, space rocks have come closer to Earth than 4581 Asclepius—indeed, as you know, some meteorites have actually struck our planet!—but nothing the size of 4581 Asclepius has hit in recorded history. To give you a comparison, the Chelyabinsk meteor that made such big news in February 2013 was estimated to be about 20 meters (65 feet) across, and the powerful Tunguska explosion of 1908 was caused by an asteroid from 45 to 70 meters (150 to 230 feet) across—but 4581 Asclepius is about 300 meters (1,000 feet) in diameter!
|We have a lot of footage of the Chelyabinsk|
meteor, thanks to dashboard cameras.
These days, at least 8 surveys are part of the Spaceguard effort to discover and study near-Earth objects. (The name “Spaceguard” was first created by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke in his book Rendezvous with Rama.) The effort to observe and catalog near-Earth objects and keep track of their orbits and whereabouts is the first step to protecting us from an impact like the one believed to have wiped out the mighty dinosaurs.
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