65-Million years ago, the asteroid that hit the Yucatan Peninsula – leaving a crater approximately 110 miles wide and 12 miles deep – is widely believed to have raised the dust cloud that triggered the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs. With an eye toward preventing (if possible) the repetition of such an Earth-shattering event, NASA keeps track of PHA’s – or potentially hazardous asteroids – to improve predictions of close encounters with these flying objects and to more accurately assess and potentially deter the threat of impact and damage from them.
Currently, the agency reports approximately 1500 of these bus-sized space rocks in relatively close proximity to us as they follow their own eccentric orbits around the sun. None are likely to actually strike the Earth. But it’s important to keep an eye on them especially because an unusually large number will fly past Earth in January and February. NASA’s Near Earth Object Program reports 43 asteroids expected to whizzing by in January, 25 in February, and 15 in March.
The largest space rock coming our way in January – on the 12th – is asteroid 2007 EJ, which measures nearly a mile wide in diameter and will zip by at approximately 34,500 mph. On February 27th, asteroid 2003 YK118 – measuring ¾ of a mile – will be part of a double threat, which includes the largest and closest asteroid for the quarter, 2000 EE14, which measures 1.4 miles in diameter and will come within 17-million miles of the Earth’s center.
These are fascinating events for astronomers but should not be of concern to the rest of us; for a far more imminent and dangerous threat to our health is unnecessary worry and agitation.