Science

Huge Asteroid Barely Misses Earth

NASA has released a warning that a huge asteroid nearly hit Earth. While it was always likely that the huge asteroid would pass us by, it was also  the closest encounter with an object of that size this year, and one that scientists did not detect until after it had passed.

Huge Asteroid
MasterTux / Pixabay

2017 W12 Discovery

The 2017 W12, a newly discovered asteroid, passed by a few weeks ago. Fortunately,  the huge asteroid passed us by at a distance of 1.32 million kilometers. While that’s not a very big distance when you’re talking about space, it’s definitely close enoughthat we should  have to worry about it. Experts predict that there’s currently no threat of 2017 W12 hitting our planet again in the near future.

After discovery by the Pan-STARRS survey in Hawaii last month, the asteroid was recently listed on the “Earth Close Approaches” page as a near-Earth object (NEOs). Scientists are expecting that within a year, we’ll see three major near-misses. The 2006 XY asteroid will soon pass Earth as well, on December 14.

While these upcoming asteroids are expected to (or already did) pass us by, if an impact were to occur, experts believe the damage would be worse than with the 59ft asteroid that hit Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013. That impact injured around 1500 people and damaged more than 7000 buildings.

Although the 2017 W12 is classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid by NASA, it’s one of 1869 on the list, most of which have very little chance of actually causing us harm. None are currently on a collision course with our planet, but all technically have the potential. As thousands and even millions of years go by, the orbits of all planetary bodies shift — asteroids included. The fact that these asteroids may be a threat thousands of years from now is not currently worth fretting about.

There’s a huge amount of NEOs that have been discovered, numbering over 17000. Just this year, almost 2000 of these objects have been detected. These asteroids come just a month after an Asteroid — undetected by NASA — flew by dangerously close to earth. While we have an idea of the majority of space debris nearby, there’s always the possibility that we could miss something important.

The Asteroids in Our Solar System

An asteroid is a small, rocky object that orbits the sun — but small is a relative label. While tiny in the grand scheme of things, a lot of asteroids are big enough to cause serious damage here on earth. Some space experts have suggested that an asteroid of this size could potentially wipe a major city off of the map. The first asteroid we discovered was Ceres, spotted by Giuseppe Piazzi back in 1801. With over 600,000 currently recognized asteroids in our solar system, it’s no surprise that a number of those are orbiting close to earth. The majority of asteroids are found in the Asteroid belt, however, located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

While we likely had  little to worry about when it came to the recent flyby, it’s definitely in our best interest to keep an eye on the space around us. There’s no need to worry about damage today, and this recent fly-by was more of an exciting event rather than a disastrous occurrence. But with hundreds of thousands of asteroids in our solar system, it’s inevitable that one impacts earth from time to time. Let’s just hope that when it does happen, it doesn’t result in major damage like an asteroid of this size could have caused.