This week, many of us will have been enjoying long relaxing evenings in the back garden, blissfully unaware of a threat which had skipped us by a hair’s breadth.
Okay, we evaded disaster by approximately 0.19 lunar orbits, but in terms of space distance, this is a pretty narrow near miss indeed.
Yesterday – while we were all happily sucking on our ice pops, an unusually large asteroid whizzed by Planet Earth at a distance of around 45,000 miles (73,000 kilometres).
— ASAS-SN (@SuperASASSN) July 25, 2019
Estimated to be around 57 to 130 meters wide (187 to 427 feet) according to NASA data, this asteroid would have released more energy than the biggest nuclear bomb on the planet, capable of wiping out an entire city. If it had crashed into the ocean – as would have been the likelihood – it would have triggered colossal tsunamis.
This is reportedly the closest we’ve come to an Armageddon-esque scenario for a good few years, with a potentially catastrophic cocktail of size and closeness.
As reported by IFLScience!, this asteroid – casually named 2019 OK – snuck up on us, catching astronomers by surprise.
2019 OK was first observed last month, however its scalp-skimming orbit was only noticed a few short hours before it hurtled past. This is because it had approached Earth from the Sun side, only becoming visible at twilight.
— Michael Brown (@MJIBrown) July 27, 2019
Lead scientist at the Royal Institution of Australia, Alan Duffy, told The Washington Post how scientists refer to such ‘uncomfortably close’ space rocks as ‘city-killer asteroids’.
Duffy told The Washington Post how this close-shave serves as a warning of the potentially destructive power of asteroids:
It should worry us all, quite frankly,
It’s not a Hollywood movie. It is a clear and present danger.
Duffy also expressed the urgency of a implementing ‘global dedicated approach’ to asteroid detection, noting:
Sooner or later there will be one with our name on it. It’s just a matter of when, not if. We don’t have to go the way of the dinosaurs,
We actually have the technology to find and deflect certainly these smaller asteroids if we commit to it now.
“In light of Asteroid 2019 OK, Duffy stressed the importance of investing in a “global dedicated approach” to detecting asteroids because “sooner or later there will be one with our name on it. It’s just a matter of when, not if.””
— Amjad Atallah (@AtallahAmjad) July 27, 2019
The dangers lurking in the darkness of space really do put all our earthly fears into perspective.
Thankfully, we have escaped calamity this time around. However, there will certainly be other, even nearer, misses to come, and we are best being technologically prepared for them when they emerge…
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.