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Dodging bullets: Another close asteroid fly-by shoots between Earth and Moon

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On Saturday an asteroid the size of a bus passed between the Earth and the Moon, coming to within 186,000 miles of the planet. It was the latest in near-Earth asteroid fly-bys, cosmic missiles buzzing Earth in an intra-solar game of dodging bullets. It was also the latest in a series of asteroids that have been discovered only days prior to their passing so close to the Earth.

Space.com reported (via Yahoo News) May 3 that another near-Earth object, a bus-sized asteroid, buzzed Earth this past weekend. The large space rock did not pose any real danger, at least during this passing. But it was a heretofore unknown asteroid -- unless one counts the knowledge of its existence in days. The asteroid, designated 2014 HL129, was discovered on April 28.

It is only one of thousands that NASA estimates are part of the population of near-Earth asteroids.

According to NASA's Asteroid Watch, which is based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., asteroid 2014 HL129 measures about 25 feet wide. Relatively small, if it had entered the Earth's atmosphere, it might have done considerable damage.

In comparison, the Chelyabinsk Meteor that detonated over the Russian skies in February 2013 measured approximately 65-70 feet across. That particular meteor disintegrated with a explosive blast equal to 500 times the energy released at Hiroshima during World War II. That space rock came flying from the direction of the Sun, a telescope blind spot, and went totally undetected until it was seen and caught on video as it violently came apart in the Russian sky.

Although half the size of the Chelyabinsk Meteor, 2014 HL129, depending on its speed, composition, and ultimate point of impact, could have been quite destructive.

And nobody even knew Saturday's near miss projectile existed on April 27.

The asteroid was just the latest of recently discovered asteroids that have passed very close to the Earth. Back in early March, another asteroid, this one as large as a ten-story building, also passed between the Earth and the Moon. That particular asteroid, 2014 DX110, was a bit larger than the Chelyabinsk Meteor. It had been discovered only five days prior to its fly-by.

But the really scary asteroids (as if an energy yield of over 500 times that of the energy released by the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II wasn't scary enough), like 2012 DA14, which was half a football field wide. It, too, passed between the Earth and the Moon -- the very same day the Chelyabinsk Meteor stole the show. As all eyes were watching 2012 DA14, discovered barely a year before it made its close passage, the asteroid that would be labeled the Chelyabinsk Meteor quickly approached and actually intersected the Earth's path.

Among those not merely concerned about the paucity of knowledge of the whereabouts of literally hundreds of thousands of asteroids in the Solar System, many of which could pose an imminent danger to Earth, former NASA astronaut Ed Lu has helped launch the B612 Foundation, a non-profit organization which has funded the Sentinel satellite, an infra-red telescope that will help find and map asteroids from Earth's blind spot. It is hoped that with enough warning time, if a potentially hazardous asteroid were to approach, something could be done to alter the asteroid's course or eliminate the asteroid as a threat altogether.

To educate the public on how important it is to know how vulnerable our planet is to a possible "killer" asteroid strike, the B612 Foundation released a video on Earth Day (April 23) that showed 26 meteor or asteroid strikes that occurred since 2000 that ranged from an energy yield of 1 kiloton to 600 kilotons.

"Because we don't know where or when the next major impact will occur," Lu said during the video unveiling, "the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a 'city-killer' sized asteroid has been blind luck."

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