While most of us slept last Sunday morning, Earth had a close call with an asteroid discovered only 21 hours earlier.
Like Live Science Elizabeth Howell, the asteroid, officially known as the 2018 GE3, was about the size of a football field, measuring between 157 and 361 feet in diameter. At its closest point to Earth, it went about 119,500 miles away – about half the distance between Earth and the Moon.
First observed at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona on Saturday, April 14, it flew closest to Earth in the small hours of the next morning at 2:41 AM SUMMER TIME. The asteroid tumbled down at 66.1
The asteroid is much larger than many of the other space rocks that passed the Earth or exploded with curiosity about how it went undetected for so long. After all, asteroids have the potential to cause havoc on Earth.
The asteroid 2018 GE3 flew past us today, half the distance to the moon. About 50-100 m in diameter, it was several times the 2013 Chelyabinsk Meteor, about the size of the 1908 Tunguska event ~ easy enough to destroy a city. We had less than a day's warning. (Photo: Michael Jäger) pic.twitter.com/kElrxBiUoB
– Andrew Rader (@marsrader) April 16, 2018
A meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk in Russia in 2013, for example nearly 1,500 injuries and thousands of buildings damaged. But the fragments of space rock did not hit anyone directly. As Katherine Hignett reports for Newsweek experts believe that the blast has caused a shock wave, and this resulted in broken windows and damaged buildings.
There is only one record of a person who was hit directly by a meteorite. Although the woman, Ann Hodges, suffered a massive bruise from the strike, she survived.
Asteroid 2018 GE3 is actually three to six times the size of the Chelyabinsk Meteor and about the same size as the Space Rock exploded over Tunguska in 1908.
In fact, GE3 2018 is one of the largest asteroids ever to occur near Earth, Eric Mack reports for CNET. Larger asteroids flew closer in 2001 and 2002, according to NASA's Earth Observation Database. But that is pretty rare. Asteroids of this size approach only once or twice a year.
How did astronomers miss the asteroid until hours before the flyby?
As Howell explains, asteroids are hard to spot and track, as most are dark and generally much smaller than 2018 GE3. This means that they may not reflect enough light for telescopes to be easily detected. "A telescope must be in the right place at the right time to catch it," she writes.
Many telescopes would need to be on the lookout immediately to discover incoming space rocks. Although NASA is tracking potential threats in this manner, its current focus is on tracking the most dangerous of these asteroids: space rocks at least 460 feet wide that are within 4.65 million miles of Earth. 2018 GE3 is about 75 percent of this size.
As Mack reports, another asteroid, 99942 Apophis, will pass by in 2029. As Smithsonian.com previously reported, this asteroid will be the next flyby of its size. It will come as close as 19,400 miles from Earth.
But do not worry, the chances of it actually hitting the ground are slim. And scientists have prepared for better preparation for such a disaster. Last month, researchers announced plans for a spacecraft called HAMMER that would collide, knocking incoming asteroids in another direction, or simply smashing it into pieces, Space.com reported.
However, this would require early detection.
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