On Monday morning, 9 January, Earth barely escaped being struck by a newly-discovered asteroid dubbed 2017 AG13. The asteroid, belonging to the Aten group of asteroids between 11 and 34 meters in diameter, was spotted by scientists at the University of Arizona-based Catalina Sky Survey just two days before the close flyby, primarily due to its low reflectivity and 16-kilometer-per-second speed.
AG13 buzzed our planet at 7:47 a.m., at a distance of about 200 000 kilometers, cosmically a near miss. The asteroid came within half the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
An “Impact Earth” simulator, created by researchers at Purdue University, calculated that at an atmospheric collision angle of 45-degrees a space rock the size of AG13 would have exploded into smaller pieces, releasing around 10 times the energy of the atomic bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki.
Although it would mostly burn up in the atmosphere and not cause destruction on a global scale, a significant amount of debris could make it to the surface, potentially causing damage and injury. The impact would be similar to the one caused by a meteorite that entered the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013, which blew out windows and caused significant damage over a wide area.
Detecting approaching space rocks in advance is crucial. Various telescopes and sky surveys constantly scan Earth’s neighborhood to track and characterize nearby asteroids. In 2005, the US Congress directed NASA to identify at least 90 percent of potentially hazardous NEOs sized 140 meters or larger by the end of 2020.