In case you missed it Friday night, a massive asteroid passed our little blue world, thankfully without incident.
To be honest it wasn’t really going to come that close, but aren’t you glad our peepers in the sky and on the ground are keeping a watchful eye out for these occurrences? The 400ft wide rock was noticed on December 23, 2013 with scientists believing it would make its closest approach to Earth on January 3, 2014. Asteroid watchers were able to make their calculations based on some 50 different observation over six days.
Keep in mind, by close we mean 3.6 lunar distances (or some 1,400,000 km), so there is no threat of wiping out all life as we know it in some kind of Deep Impact inspired scenario. This is not the first “near miss” that Earth has seen. For example in 2012 another near miss (by 140,000 miles) occurred in early December by the XE54, which was some 120 ft wide. An asteroid of similar size destroyed over 800 miles of forest in Siberia in 1908.
Scientists have discovered some 9,000 asteroids with the possibility to be potentially dangerous, which is higher than one might expect. NASA’s WISE (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer) observations indicate that nearly 5,000 asteroids of considerable size come within an alarmingly close distance to the Earth in their respective orbits, 30% of that number having the capability of destroying a substantial area if they were to impact the planet. For example, the Toutatis Asteroid is 3 miles wide, and the closest it has come to Earth is 4.5 million miles, but it still bears monitoring.
After all, the asteroid that that killed off the dinosaurs and kicked off a global ice age was some six miles wide. You would think we would have little to worry about, but when you consider the damage that some of the smaller impacts over the years have caused, it’s comforting to know that somebody is watching and possibly expecting the worst.