Scientists have just announced that the first asteroid found in the new year, dubbed 2014 AA, more than likely wound up hitting the Earth. The announcement comes by way of NASA after scientists at the space agency did orbital calculations on the newly-found space rock's trajectory. While unusual, this is not a first as the same exact thing happened back in 2008.
Now, while Earth escaped catastrophe this time (2014 AA was only about 7-10 feet across), this nonetheless highlights the dangers Earth faces from space rocks.
It was almost a year ago that a rather small space rock only about 50 feet across set off a shockwave of over magnitude 5 on the Richter Scale and injured over 1,000 people, most by shattering, flying glass, when it exploded thousands of feet in the air over Russia.
As of now, there are millions of asteroids floating around the solar system, mostly in the Main Asteroid Belt, which is safely between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Of the millions of asteroids 7,000 are classified as near-Earth. Of the near-Earth objects, over1,000 are considered as "potentially hazardous," which is defined as an object over 500 feet in diameter that can come within 4.6 million miles of Earth.
Obviously, a metallic space rock 500 feet across traveling at up to 15 miles per second could do an immense amount of damage. For comparison, the object (most likely a comet) that caused the Tunguska Incidentwas probably less than 100 yards (300 feet across) but still leveled forests for over 1,000 square miles.
Needless to say, if such an object (even a small one) were to hit a populated area, the death toll would be apocalyptic. Large impactor? Worldwide devastation and possibly an end to civilization as we know it, which is all the more reason to keep looking and working on planetary defense systems.
The problem with many doomsday scenarios: when contemplating ways to defend our planet, many planners always give several months and often years of notice. Problem: asteroids have a way of sneaking up on us, which is not hard to do considering that there are more people working at the average McDonald's than there are full-time asteroid hunters manning the world's observatories. Last month, it was reported that nuking asteroids might be the saving grace for Earth but, for many, such a scenario should be considered last resort, not first option, which leaves early detection as a more favorable option.
Needless to say, by looking at what happened with 2014 AA, early detection is not always possible, which is all the more reason to develop short-response planetary defense systems.
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