Asteroid 2013 LR6 will pass within 70,000 miles of Earth tonight, making its closest approach over Tasmania at 9:42 Pacific Time. The asteroid is 30 feet in diameter and NASA says it has no chance of striking our planet. What is a matter for concern, though, is that it was just discovered two days ago, on June 6. The discovery was made by NASA’s Catalina Sky Survey. The fact that it is not going to strike Earth is a matter largely of chance, and its discovery such a short time ago is an indication of how urgently NASA needs funding for a much more extensive near earth asteroid identification program.
The meteor that exploded over Russia on February 15 was about 55 feet across and exploded with the force of 470 tons of TNT. It was not observed at all while moving toward Earth.
Although 2013 LR6 is smaller, if it were to hit a populated area or near offshore, it could cause extensive damage. The IAU Minor Planet Center has graded its calculated trajectory at an uncertainty factor of 5. This is a moderate level of uncertainty. The lowest is 0 and the highest is 9. Most minor planet orbits are calculated below 6.
NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program manages the search for near-earth objects, and the monitoring of objects whose orbits are known to bring them near Earth. Since the Russian strike on February 15, there have been at least eight major bolide events recorded around the world, but none have caused damage. On May 16, a large meteor struck the moon. Dramatic footage from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded the moment.
Does this all mean that we can expect a rising number of asteroids and meteors entering the region of the solar system’s inner planets, and potentially imperiling Earth? At present, we do not have enough knowledge of the meteor and asteroid population to be sure. Asteroid 2003 QQ47 was briefly thought to pose an impact risk next year, but additional orbital calculations have ruled that out, and at present there are no known objects that pose any immediate risk.
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