This was the Chelyabinsk meteor, which exploded about 20 miles (30 km) above the city of Chelyabinsk in Russia on February 15, 2013. As the unnamed near-Earth asteroid fell, it was moving at over eleven miles per second. The explosion released the energy equivalent of around 440,000 tons of TNT. Even at that height, the shock wave and debris from the explosion damaged more than 7,000 buildings and produced 1,491 indirect injuries (most from broken glass). The blast, which was stronger than a nuclear explosion, triggered detections by monitoring stations as far away as Antarctica. The meteor was so bright it may have briefly outshone the Sun.
Asteroids move all the time, so each year, there are one or more different asteroids closest to Earth —closer than other near-Earth asteroids— at a given time.
For example, on March 11, 2022, a small asteroid called 2022 EB5 impacted Earth’s atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean off Norway’s Jan Mayen Island. On March 25, another asteroid, 2022 FD1, grazed Earth’s atmosphere, coming only around 5,260 miles (8,470 km) from Earth’s surface. That’s closer than many orbiting satellites.
Is an asteroid going to hit Earth in 2036?
Near-Earth asteroid 99942 Apophis is another potentially hazardous asteroid. It has a diameter of 1,210 feet (370 meters), and in 2004, initial observations indicated a high probability that it could hit Earth in April 2029. Later, the highest probability of an impact was moved to 2036. But calculations in 2021 estimated that 99942 Apophis would pass as close as 19,600 miles (31.500 km) but should miss the planet.
Bennu and 1950 DA are two asteroids that are often believed to hit Earth within the next hundred years. Let’s see:
- Asteroid 1950 DA was discovered in 1950. It has a size of 0.68 miles (1.1 kilometers) in diameter. According to NASA, it has an impact probability of 1 in 300 in the year 2880. If it impacts Earth, it will most likely crash into the ocean, producing massive tsunamis and floods in coastal areas.
- Asteroid Bennu, on the other hand, has a diameter of 1,722 feet (525 meters). If it collided with Earth, which NASA calculates could occur between 2175 and 2199, it could cause massive destruction on a planetary scale. However, it is also estimated that there is only an impact probability of 1 in 1,750.
NASA is continually compiling impact risk data with an automated collision monitoring system called Sentry. Currently, asteroid 2010 RF12 has one of the highest chances of Earth impact: 1 in 21 or 4.7 percent (1 in 16) on September 5, 2095. During this time, the asteroid is expected to fly past Earth from a distance of roughly 1,060 miles away. However, this asteroid is only 23 feet (7 meters) in diameter, so a highly damaging impact event is unlikely.
NASA has actually mapped only about 40 percent of the largest near-Earth asteroids. It has the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) to anticipate close approaches to Earth and possible impact events. Still, it is also investigating the possibility of deflecting asteroids and other objects that pose a threat to Earth before they reach the surface.
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