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Another “potentially dangerous” asteroid travels close to Earth

These types of news are recurrent. This time, a relatively large asteroid will come close to Earth at approximately 11 times the distance between earth and the moon. Although this could sound as like great distance, in astronomical terms it is almost “touching” our atmosphere.

The news of an imminent approximation of an asteroid to Earth will not capture first page headlines, why? There have been close to 1,900 “large rocks” of this type in recent times which astronomers have dubbed as potentially dangerous, therefore these announcements have become repetitive, and the numbers keep on rising.

What doesn’t help much is that astronomers call them “potentially dangerous” making them sound as a threat to the general population but in terms of millions of years, as someday in the distant future, one will possibly crash against Earth.

Since the sense of awareness was created, mostly due to motion pictures such as Jurassic Park, Deep Impact, and Armageddon, which move the discussion from specialists to the general public, developed countries have invested important economic resources to build telescopes both on Earth as in space to try to uncover more of these celestial bodies. Once they are discovered, experts can determine which will pass close or crash against Earth.

Up to now, none have collided with the planet, at least for the coming tens of years. The greatest fear is that there may be some on the way to Earth and that hasn’t been discovered yet.

A large asteroid

The coming asteroid has caught the attention of experts due to its size. Most asteroids that come close to Earth are normally the size of a computer, a car or a bus. However, 2002 AJ129 is a relatively large body with an estimated diameter of 700 mt. (2296 ft.), therefore this is considered as in the “big leagues.”

An asteroid the size of a bus or less which collides with Earth will not produce any damage as probably it will end up exploding miles above the surface of the planet. And although the power could equal that of an atomic bomb, its effects would not even be felt on the surface.

However, if the size of an asteroid is greater than 20 or 30 mt. (65 – 98 ft.) the danger is far greater as the atmosphere has greater difficulty to oppose its impact and although it is probable that it will explode, it could be at a lower height and its destructive effects could be greater as occurred with other amply known asteroids in Russia:

  • Tunguska, in 1908
  • Chelyabinsk, in 2013, which produced significant damage in buildings and left around 1,500 injured.

Objects with sizes between 50 and 100 mt. (162 – 328 ft.) or more will hardly be affected by the atmosphere and will impact the surface creating a large crater, besides a shock wave, a large flash, and an earthquake. If they hit the ocean, which is most probable, they could cause a tsunami.

If the asteroid is larger, the effects could be absolutely disastrous. It is estimated that the asteroid that made dinosaurs, animals and 75% of plant species extinct more than 65 million years ago was 10 km. (6.2 miles) in diameter, approximately 14 times the size of the asteroid which recently passed the Earth.

The 2002 AJ129 asteroid was discovered 16 years ago by a telescope located in Hawaii. During this time its orbit has been thoroughly studied by astronomers and they are completely sure it will not hit the Earth.

Although this asteroid is relatively large, only astronomers with powerful telescopes may come to see this celestial body when it is closer to Earth.

However, with the right equipment, astronomers with more powerful equipment will observe this phenomenon with radio telescopes and become cognizant of it shape and inclusively know if it has satellites orbiting its body.


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