Alan Duffy was confused. On Thursday, the astronomer's phone was suddenly flooded with calls from reporters who wanted to hear about a large asteroid that had just flown over the earth, and he could not figure out "why everyone was so alarmed."
We set off Worried about something we knew would come, "said Duffy, who is also senior scientist at the Royal Institution of Australia, opposite the Washington Post. Forecasts had already predicted that a few asteroids would pass relatively close to Earth this week.
Then he looked at the details of the space rock asteroid 2019 OK.
"I was stunned," he said. "That was a real shock."
This asteroid was not one that scientists had been following, and it seemed to have come out of nowhere, "said Michael Brown, a Melbourne-based observatory astronomer, opposite the post office, according to NASA was the rugged rock big, about 100 meters wide, and moving quickly on a path that brought him to Earth at a distance of 73,000 kilometers, which is a fifth of the distance to the moon and what Duffy regards as "unpleasantly close."
It snuck up on us fairly quickly, "said Brown, associate professor at the Australian Monash University School of Physics and Astronomy, later remarking," People only notice what happened after it happened to us. " The presence of the asteroid was discovered earlier this week by various astronomy teams in Brazil and the United States – information about its size and its path were announced a few hours before his rebound to Earth, Brown said.
"It shook me from my morning complacency," he said. "It's probably the largest asteroid that has come so close to Earth for a number of years."
How did the event go almost unnoticed?
First, there is the problem of size, Duffy said. Asteroid 2019 OK is a sizeable boulder, but not nearly as big as the ones that can trigger an event like dinosaur extinction. More than 90 percent of these asteroids, which are 1 kilometer or more in size, have already been identified by NASA and its partners.
"Nothing of that size is easy to spot," Duffy said over the 100 meter wide asteroid. "They really rely on reflected sunlight, and even with the next approach, it was barely visible with binoculars."
Brown said that the "eccentric orbit" and the speed of the asteroid were also likely factors in why he saw it ahead of time. Its "very elliptical orbit" takes it "from Mars into Venus orbit", which means that the time it spends near the Earth where it is detectable does not last long, he said. As he approached Earth, the asteroid moved at about 24 kilometers per second, he said. Other newer asteroids that have flown over the earth, however, have a speed between 4 and 19 kilometers per second.
"It's been weak for a long time," Brown said about asteroid 2019 OK. "After a week or two, it'll be bright enough to spot, but someone has to look in the right place, and once it's finally realized, things will happen quickly, but this thing is fast approaching, and we knew it just before that Flyby. "
Last-minute detection is yet another sign of how much space is still unknown and a sobering reminder of the real threat that asteroids can pose, Duffy said.
" It should be completely open to us he worried, "It's not a Hollywood movie. It is a clear and present danger. "
Duffy said astronomers have a nickname for the kind of space rock that came so close to Earth:" City Murderer Asteroids "They've probably hit the ground, causing devastating damage, Brown said.
"It would have been fired like a very large nuclear weapon," he said. "Many megatons, maybe in the ball park of 10 megatonnes TNT, so something you should not mess with."
2013 a much smaller meteor – with a diameter of about 20 meters or the size of a six-story building – – dissolved over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, triggering a violent shockwave that collapsed roofs, shattered windows and injured about 1,200 people. The last space rock that hit Earth the same size as the 2019 Asteroid was over a century ago, Brown said. This asteroid, known as the Tunguska event, caused an explosion that destroyed 2000 square kilometers of forest land in Siberia.
Although the chances of a large asteroid landing on a city are "modest," Brown said it's still worth using detection and prevention resources. According to Brown, Asteroid 2019 OK proves there are "still dangerous asteroids we do not know about," which "can arrive unannounced on our doorstep."
Scientists are working to develop at least two approaches to avert potentially harmful asteroids. Said Duffy. One strategy is to slowly turn the asteroid from its course over time and push it away from the earth, he said. The other, which he described as a "very elegant solution", is the gravity tractor. If an asteroid is detected early enough, NASA says it may be possible to redirect it using spacecraft gravity.
People should not try to "blow it up" with a nuclear weapon, Duffy said.
That makes for a great Hollywood movie, "he said. "The challenge with a nuclear power plant is that it may work or not, but it would definitely make the asteroid radioactive."
Given Asteroid 2019 OK, Duffy emphasized the importance of investing in a "global dedicated approach" to asteroid detection because "sooner or later there will be one with our name on it, it's just a question when and if. "
"We do not have to go the way of the dinosaurs," he said. "We actually have the technology to safely find and distract these smaller asteroids if we commit to doing so." An important activity to observe the sky. "The more you can learn about an asteroid, the better people can be prepared to prevent potential disasters," she told the Post.
Nonetheless, Lakdawalla said the asteroid works closely with him. Earth may have raised some concerns: "It's a zero-percent threat to us."
"Something you learn about something you do not do anything about I know how things fly near us, and your inclination is to be afraid, "she said. "But just like sharks in the ocean they really will not hurt you and are really fascinating to look at."
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