In the last few hours, a "Deep Impact" style scenario has unfolded in space as a huge asteroid grazed past Earth last night at 27,000mph.
The asteroid passed within 2 million miles of Earth, not exactly a "near miss" but close enough to make scientists sit up and track its progress with more than a passing interest.
The asteroid, known as 2000 EM26, was a chunk of space rock of around 885 feet (270m)in diameter, and was discovered on March 5th 2000.
Images recorded by astronomers at Slooh.com did not show a high level of detail as the asteroid whizzed by, though Slooh astronomer Bob Berman explained that astronomers knew it would be "a little fainter than Pluto." The live Slooh webcast started at 02:00 GMT on February 18; you can watch it on the YouTube link in this article.
Sky-watchers were disappointed by the aerial display, though many were relieved that the asteroid had not come any closer to our planet or, even worse, made impact.
The incident occurred almost a year to the day after an asteroid actually made impact at Chelyabinsk in Russia on February 15, 2013. The impact came as a surprise to astronomers, who were actually focusing on another asteroid, 2012 DA14, a piece of space rock weighing in at around 40,000 tons that missed Earth by a mere 17,200 miles (27,680 km), a very close shave in space terms.
2012 DA1498, also known as 367943 Duende, was 98ft (30 m) in diameter, and was originally discovered on February 23, 2012, by the Observatorio Astronómico de La Sagra, Granada Province in Spain. It was the largest object to pass within such a close distance to Earth in our lifetimes.
Its passage was somewhat eclipsed by an unexpected visitor to our planet, as a 65ft (20m) asteroid zoomed into our airspace and exploded 18 miles above the Chelyabinsk region of Russia. The massive explosion, which released the energy of more than 20 atomic bombs or 460 kiltons of TNT, caused widespread damage to buildings and caused many injuries from flying broken glass.
Unbelievably for an event of such magnitude, there were no fatalities, though it was a terrifying ordeal for those who witnessed it. The Russian government commemorated the event at this year’s Winter Olympics, when ten gold medals were embedded with fragments from the exploded meteor.
The Chelyabinsk incident was a sobering reminder of the potential harm that could occur if an even more larger chunk of space rock was to collide with Earth in the future. There is little we can do to prevent such an event from happening, as scientists can merely track the progress of potential threats and only then if they are discovered in time. An impact from an asteroid the size of 2000 EM26 could have caused far more damage than was seen at Chelyabinsk, so we can be very grateful that a collision was avoided.
Meteor strike remains one of the potential causes of an extinction-level event on Earth. It would require an object larger than 1km in diameter to strike us to produce catastrophic global effects that threatened all life on the planet. Objects of this size have collided with Earth several times during its history, but occur very infrequently at approximately once every million years or so.
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