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Home / Science / The scientists almost overlooked a "city killer" asteroid that flew near Earth.

The scientists almost overlooked a "city killer" asteroid that flew near Earth.



  A large asteroid crater with muddy water surrounded by forests.

Lonar Crater and its salt lake in the Indian state of Maharashtra asteroid impact about 50,000 years ago.

ALEX OGLE / Getty Images

Last week, an asteroid flew past Earth, passing us at less than a fifth of the distance to the moon. Good that it has not come closer, because scientists had no idea that it would come until it was too late to defend us, if we had been on his way.

Researchers in the United States and Brazil identified it only a week before it happened on Earth. The deceptively boring Asteroid 2019 OK came "out of nowhere," said Australian astronomy professor Michael Brown of the Washington Post. Scientists had not followed OK in 2019 and communicated to the public information about its size and whereabouts, just hours before hurrying past 54,000 miles an hour.

There are some reasons why it has remained undetected for so long. This asteroid has an elliptical orbit that took it past Mars and within Venus' orbit, which ultimately meant that it spent little time near Earth and was visible to scientists.

Also, the OK 2019 was not big enough to demand attention. Scientists are generally good at discovering massive asteroids like the ones that killed the dinosaurs – they discovered 90 percent of the species, which are half a mile wide or larger – but in 2019 was only the size of a large boulder. The fact that it came from the direction of the sun and blinded the astronomers to its approach did not help.

If the 2019 Asteroid had fallen to Earth, it would have done serious damage.
Professor Allan Duffy, a scientist at the Royal Institute of Australia, told the Sydney Morning Herald that "he would have hit the energy of the atomic explosion in Hiroshima more than 30 times. "So it deserves a place among asteroids with a nickname of Hollywood quality: the" city killer. "

Scientists are well aware of the "city killer" threat. A few months ago, Jane C. Hu talked about a weeklong conference where astronomers discussed what to do when they found out that space rock was shooting toward Earth. It is anything but an implausible scenario. Before the OK threat of 2019, there were three fly-bys at a distance of 73,000 to 274,000 miles. And in 2013, a meteor in Chelyabinsk, Russia, hit at least 1,200 people, according to the Washington Post. The conclusion of the scientists at the recent conference? They would probably launch weapons of defense, possibly nuclear weapons, armed spaceships to fend off the impending asteroid. Still, there were questions about who would be in charge in this case – would it be a particular country or an intergalactic committee that considers it appropriate to use the weapons? As Hu reported, this decision was "beyond the purview of the conference, but it seems to be part of the puzzle that law and policy experts should find out long before we face an actual asteroid threat."

The short but alarming appearance of 2019 OK will certainly fuel this discussion. According to Duffy, this should be a wake-up call: "It is a clear and present danger."

future tense
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This examines new technologies, public order and society.


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