On June 8, a massive Near Earth object -- an asteroid labeled "The Beast" -- will pass our planet in its orbit around the Sun, coming extremely close to our world and posing a potential threat in years to come. The large space rock hurtling through the void is yet another example of the potential dangers humanity faces as it makes its way through the galaxy aboard the spheroid ship of Earth. It is also another exist of a fly-by from yet another asteroid recently discovered that, if it collided with our planet, could have catastrophic implications. And what if it did? Collide with Earth, that is?
Space.com reported (via Yagoo News) June 6 that asteroid 2014 HQ124, nicknamed by observers "The Beast," was discovered against the backdrop of space just six weeks ago -- April 23, to be precise. That would not have been time enough to do much about its impact -- if it were going to impact the Earth. But quick calculations made as its course across the sky was plotted indicated it would not actually hit the giant moving space rock we call home. Instead, its fly-by would be a relatively close 777,000 miles from Earth. That is roughly 3.25 times the distance from the Earth to the moon. In astronomical distances, that's a near miss.
So what nearly hit us? It is just a big asteroid measuring 335 meters (1,100 feet) wide. Not the biggest Near Earth Object (NEO) that's out there, but certainly not the smallest. (The smallest ones rain down on Earth by the thousands daily; bigger ones show up as shooting stars; even bigger ones may be discovered later as meteorites.) It would be, however, a game-changer for the human race if it actually impacted the Earth.
Mark Boslough of Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico explained the potential danger of the The Beast during a webcast produced by the online Slooh community observatory: "This one would definitely be catastrophic if it hit the Earth."
The asteroid impact expert further elaborated, "If it hit a city, it would definitely wipe out an entire metropolitan area."
He added, "You'd end up with a crater about 3 miles across. An event like that would break windows over 100 kilometers away."
2014 HQ124 is traveling at 31,000 mph (50,000 km/h) relative to Earth. But the gravity of Earth would increase the speed of the asteroid to 40,000 mph (64,000 km/h) by the time of impact. This would release energy in the neighborhood of 2,000 megatons (which is about 60,000 times the yield of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan).
To put The Beast's potentiality for causing a disaster that could eject soil and smoke, flotsam, jetsam, and various grades of detritus into the atmosphere (something that most likely would effect regional climate) into perspective, the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded in the Russian sky February 2013 was only about 20 meters wide (65 feet). It knocked out windows for miles and sent over 1,200 people to the hospital. Incidentally, it wasn't detected until it roared over Chelyabinsk and detonated.
On the other side of the same coin, the Chixhulub meteor that crashed into the Earth just off the Yucatan Peninsula some 66 million years ago is estimated to have been over 6 miles wide and left a crater 20 miles deep and somewhere between 110 and 190 miles wide. Scientists concluded that the force of impact (2 million times the most powerful bomb ever detonated by humans, the Tsar Bomba, which was equal to about 50 teratons) triggered the mass extinction event that resulted in the passing of 75 percent of all extant species at the time, including all non-avian dinosaurs.
The point being: Without an early warning system to help detect Near Earth Objects, including asteroids that could be potentially catastrophic, it is only a matter of time before a near miss becomes a hit. With 2014 HQ124, the six week warning window would have been enough time to execute a major evacuation of the impact area. But as is noted, it isn't the acual impact and its
As Space.com pointed out, scientists believe they've found about 95 percent of the "civilization enders" soaring through space. Still, that leaves about 5 percent unaccounted for and potentially lining up for a collision with Earth. And a recent study conducted by the B612 Foundation noted that there have been 26 "city killer" asteroid strikes on Earth since the turn of the millenium.
"Because we don't know where or when the next major impact will occur," former NASA astronaut Ed Lu, co-founder of B612 Foundation, said at a press conference in April when unveiling a video concerning the "city killer" information, "the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a 'city-killer' sized asteroid has been blind luck."
The B612 Foundation, a non-profit organization, seeks to create and emplace a network to help map and detect Near Earth Objects. The organization has plans to put into orbit near Venus an infra-red telescope to help identify large and near-Earth asteroids that might pose a danger to Earth. The telescope, called Sentinel, is scheduled to be operational by 2018 and will scan a part of our Solar System that currently offers a "blind spot" to astronomers. It was from this blind spot that the Chelyabinsk meteor emerged.
Astronomers will continue tracking The Beast, now that they know of its existence, and plot its course through the heavens. Hopefully the asteroid's next fly-by will take it farther away from Earth. Regardless, it is a fly-by we can prepare for, because there is time.
But our time of blind luck stumbling through space just might be running out...