The celestial object flew past the Earth five times closer than the Moon and highlights the need to improve NASA’s detection systems.
Internal emails reveal that NASA discussed 2019 OK “because there may be media coverage” and only 30 minutes before it whizzed past the Earth. The size of a football pitch, it would have obliterated an entire city had it entered the Earth’s atmosphere.
“Because there may be media coverage tomorrow, I’m alerting you that in about 30 mins a 57-130 meter sized asteroid will pass Earth at only 0.19 lunar distances (48,000 miles)”, wrote Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defence officer on 24 July.
One thing should be mentioned. NASA did spot the asteroid on 7 July, but it moved too slowly to be identified as a near-Earth object. By the time it sped up scientists couldn’t detect it. According to media reports, NASA said bad weather and the position of the Moon had hampered the asteroid’s detection.
It would have hit with over 30 times the energy of the atomic blast at Hiroshima”, said Swinburne University astronomer Alan Duffy, calling it a city-killer.
NASA scientists rushed to condemn doomsday predictions. Buzzfeed News received numerous emails regarding it. In one of them an unnamed NASA official wrote: “Asteroid can’t be a city killer when it flies by Earth at 70,000 km, and if and when an asteroid impact might occur, it would not release any nuclear radiation”.
Other emails suggest that people within the space agency feel that there is a need for a better detection system. In 2005, the US Congress tasked NASA with detecting 90 percent of hazardous asteroids.
Hope next time an asteroid of that scale flies past the Earth the weather will be lovely.
Asteroid spotted two weeks ago flies past Earth as close as Moon
The asteroid, dubbed by NASA 2019 SC, was first observed in the solar system on September 6 this year, flew on a close trajectory to Earth.
Asteroid 2019 SC is an Apollo-type rock on a trajectory similar to Asteroid 1862 Apollo. NASA has ranked it as an NEO or Near-Earth Object, as it whizzed past the Earth while being as close as the Moon.
NEOs are the usual name for all comets and asteroids that come close to Earth on their orbits of the inner solar system. The European Space Agency (ESA) estimates there are currently 20,756 known NEOs in the system. Out of these objects, 877 have made it onto ESA’s NEO Risk List.
NASA estimates the rock measures somewhere in the range of 29.2ft to 65.6ft (8.9 m to 20m) across – too small to be considered a real danger. The asteroid missed our planet from a safe distance on Thursday, giving the Earth a wide berth of around 0.00360 au.
An incident like this took place in 2013, when a 65.6ft-wide (20m) entered the skies above Russia’s Chelyabinsk Oblast. The space rock exploded mid-flight, blowing out windows in a wide radius and injuring people with glass shards.