Unknown Country has been keeping a keen eye on the skies just recently, and with good cause: following the revelation last week that the Earth had narrowly escaped serious damage from 26 very sizeable asteroids over the past few years, another lucky escape was reported over the weekend.
The possibility of a "Deep Impact" style scenario in the style of the blockbuster film came a little closer when, on Saturday morning, another large asteroid skimmed past our home planet at 4:13 a.m. EDT (0813 GMT). At its closest point, the 25 feet (7.6m) chunk of rock was a mere 186,000 miles (299,338 kilometers) away from Earth, a hair's breadth in cosmic terms, reported NASA's Asteroid Watch project based at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The asteroid, known as HL129, was detected on Wednesday April 28 by astronomers with the Mount Lemmon Survey team, just days before its brush with Earth, according to an alert by the Minor Planet Center, an arm of the International Astronomical Union that monitors and records asteroid discoveries.
It transpires that we have already escaped serious repercussions from the 26 asteroid blasts that occurred between the years 2000 and 2013, as the related explosions took place either in remote areas or high up in the atmosphere; however, the notorious Chelyabinsk meteor did cause widespread damage when it blew up over the Russian city in 2013. Though this meteor did not actually strike Earth, the incident, along with the Tunguska meteor strike in 1908, gave us a small glimpse of the type of aftermath that would ensue if a large asteroid actually crashed into the ground.The Tunguskan impact, which thankfully took place in a remote and unpopulated area, resulted in 770 square miles (2,000 square km)of forest being totally flattened.
Though it appears to be a relatively small chunk of rock in comparison to this planet, if HL129 had made a direct impact on Earth it would have blasted us with the force of a nuclear bomb around half the size of the device that obliterated the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945. Consequently, early detection of asteroids is becoming of paramount importance as, with only a few day's notice of its existence, very little could have been done to avert disaster if the trajectory of HL129 had placed it on a collision course with Earth.
It is a disturbing fact, therefore, that NASA has revealed that only one per cent of all asteroids with a potential to strike Earth have been identified; as if to prove this point, the Chelyabinsk meteor was a total surprise to astronomers, apparently materialising out of thin air shortly before it exploded.
NASA have now launched an ‘Asteroid Grand Challenge, in which ideas are being compiled from a variety of sources in order to try and improve on the current methods of identification and tracking of near-Earth objects. There is a bounty of $35,000 for the best asteroid detection algorithm and so competition is fierce, with 422 proposals received from 63 countries.
In a recent interview, Been Burress of Oakland’s Chabot Space and Science Center talked about the necessity of pooling ideas and resources:
“Good ideas can come from anywhere. There are millions of asteroids we don’t know about, so the idea of more information really is better. Are we going to be hit? Yes. The question is, when and by how big of an asteroid?”
It is becoming increasingly clear that this issue should be given the highest priority by the world's governments. We should be grateful to have dodged so many loaded space "missiles" thus far; as summed up in a final comment from Whitley Strieber, it would be complacent to expect this good fortune to continue indefinitely:
"It continues to look as if the meteor count is rising. Are we entering a 'dirty' area of space? If so, it's likely to be only a question of time before an object of serious concern strikes our planet."
If you have any ideas for early detection of asteroids, then share them with NASA; for all other related views and opinions, please share them with us here at Unknown Country! Subscribe today to leave your valued comments.
If you are interested in this subject, check out THIS WEEK'S DREAMLAND for a special interview with Robert Schoch, PhD. which delves into the 'dirty' space theory, and explains that that this will not only be full of big rocks, but that it could also destabilize the sun.