Potentially hazardous asteroid surprises astronomers

December 15, 2014 by Tomasz Nowakowski, Astrowatch.net

"Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour," could be still an actual description of our ability to predict asteroid threats to Earth. The sentence from the Bible (Matthew 25:13) sounds like a reminder of a vast number of more than 1,500 currently potentially hazardous objects, floating in space, meandering around in the Solar System. Some of them may be destined to pay our planet a close visit someday, unexpectedly, Chelyabinsk-style, as the one that hit Russia in February 2013, causing serious damages and injuring about 1,500 people. Who would have predicted that? Lately, one of the potentially hazardous asteroids, named 2014 UR116, created quite a buzz when various media reported that the 370 meters wide space rock may hit Earth. Its impact would cause an explosion 1,000 times greater than the Chelyabinsk meteor. But the discoverer of 2014 UR116, Vladimir Lipunov, a professor at Moscow State University, becalms the public. "This asteroid will not collide with Earth during the next 100 years," Lipunov told astrowatch.net.

Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are space rocks larger than approximately 100 m that can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU. Currently none of the known PHAs is on a collision course with our planet, although astronomers are finding new ones all the time.

Lipunov said it is difficult to calculate the orbit of big rocks like 2014 UR116 because their trajectories are constantly being changed by the gravitational pull of other planets. He noticed that the scientists can't say precisely when the asteroid will approach the Earth. "We should track it constantly. Because if we have a single mistake, there will be a catastrophe. The consequences can be very serious," he said in the documentary "Asteroids attack" posted on Roscosmos website.

He emphasizes that the asteroid was missed by other, much bigger telescope networks. "It's funny that much larger [American] telescopes... than our MASTER (robotic telescope), missed such utter lump! The reason is that all previous flybys of the Earth took place during the full moon, when the anti-asteroid system is idle," Lipunov wrote on his blog.

2014 UR116 is often compared to the famous asteroid Apophis which is similar in size and also created worldwide concern when in 2004 the initial observations indicated a probability of up to 2.7% that it would hit our planet. Now, the risk of impact has been eliminated and Apophis is expected to fly-by Earth in 2029 and in 2036.

The orbit of asteroid 2014 UR116. Credit: JPL

"I don't think there is any possibility of Apophis striking the Earth in the next few decades, as JPL has shown that it will miss by a safe distance," Gordon Garradd, Australian astronomer, the discoverer of numerous asteroids and comets told astrowatch.net. Garradd has worked for a number of astronomical institutions in the USA and Australia, most recently at Siding Spring Observatory on the Siding Spring Survey, part of the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey for near-Earth objects.

Robert McMillan, Principal Investigator of the Spacewatch Project at the University of Arizona is also convinced that Apophis won't hit Earth. He notes that "Its orbit is already tightly constrained by many observations including radar." He adds that any potential debris that could also pose a threat is unlikely to be emitted by the asteroid. Spacewatch Project finds potential targets for interplanetary spacecraft missions, provides followup astrometry of such targets, and finds objects that might present a hazard to the Earth.

Apophis or 2014 UR116 are approximately the size of three football stadiums, but what about the objects big enough to wipe out the entire human population? For example, in August 2014, two 3 km wide asteroid passed by Earth. Luckily, at a safe distance. In February we will see 2000 EE14, 1.6 km in diameter, but 72 LD (Lunar Distance, 1 LD = 384,401 km, the distance between Earth and the Moon) is safe enough, so doomsday is cancelled.

Good news is that asteroids that big don't fly by Earth very often, but just to make sure and avoid any potential catastrophe, it's better to track them constantly. Just like Lipunov says.

Explore further: NASA says recently spotted asteroid 2014 UR116 no risk for Earth

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Former Martian
5 / 5 (3) Dec 15, 2014
Does journalism even require a degree anymore or is it just something you purchase on the internet? "created quite a buzz when various media reported that the 370-wide space rock may hit Earth." 370 what? miles? meters? inches?

Why are you using Bible references to describe an asteroid how do you not know it's not nuclear weapons?

Please get rid of Tomasz Nowakowski and find somebody who does actual journalism.

d_robison
not rated yet Dec 15, 2014
Does journalism even require a degree anymore or is it just something you purchase on the internet? "created quite a buzz when various media reported that the 370-wide space rock may hit Earth." 370 what? miles? meters? inches?


Given that the writer mentions the explosion would be about 1000 times as energetic as the February 2013 asteroid, it is likely 370 meters.

Why are you using Bible references to describe an asteroid how do you not know it's not nuclear weapons?


I don't understand this question, the Bible reference isn't to describe the asteroid. It's a passage that relates to the fact that there are many asteroids out there that have not been cataloged and there could be an impact at any time. I assume you are asking how we know it's an asteroid that impacted Earth and not a nuclear weapon. Lack of radioactive fallout would be the main reason. Also the easiest way to achieve an airborne blast is from a missile launch, which we would know about.
hemipwr54
1 / 5 (5) Dec 15, 2014
Fear for Funding!
Stop with the fear mongering already.
aces_on_the_river
1 / 5 (4) Dec 15, 2014
How did an asteroid become hazardous? Oh, because somehow if might effect the population? You know humanity needs to be effected. An asteroid plummeting to earth would be a " " send. Humanity needs a kick in the face.
Roll Tide Joe
1 / 5 (4) Dec 15, 2014
The Bible verse has nothing to do with asteroids or nukes. That's just silly.

"Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour," could be still an actual description of our ability to predict asteroid threats to Earth."

"Why are you using Bible references to describe an asteroid how do you not know it's not nuclear weapons? "

Here is the real verse : "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh."

Notice that last part of the verse that was left off. "Wherein the Son of man cometh" That's a way more interesting than the space rocks in this story. People should be more aware and ready for that party. We are all living on borrowed time regardless if its a asteroid, a nuke, or just a freak car accident. I just pray we are all ready for it when the time comes.
Lex Talonis
not rated yet Dec 16, 2014
Yeah our lord, the stone age serial psychopathic saviour, Charles "Jesus Christ" Manson.

Luke 19:27 "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.'"

Lets name an asteroid after him and throw a few virgins into a volcano as well.

That should keep their imaginary friend off our arses.

Tachyon8491
5 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2014
"...just to make sure and avoid any potential catastrophe..."

Really? Our knowledge of calculated impending impact point is one thing - another is methods to avoid the logically imminent catastrophe, which at present are completely beyond our technical ability. This reminds of a cynical snippet of advice during the cold war: "Place head between knees and kiss your a** goodbye."

To alter the immense trajectory-momentum of planet-killers requires fine control of enormous energy-magnitudes. It certainly has become time to research such energy-handling techniques as we know impact events have undoubtedly caused mass extinctions in the past.
Lex Talonis
5 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2014
What a stupid article..... The entire content - seriously.

"Good news is that asteroids that big don't fly by Earth very often, but just to make sure and avoid any potential catastrophe, it's better to track them constantly. Just like Lipunov says."

Tracking them ONLY tells you IF and probably when, they will hit, except for the ones that appear out of nowhere with a few days notice....

But OK how does tracking them save anything?

How does knowing if they are going to hit or miss, actually prevent any catastrophe?

If it's going to hit - and it's a decent whack - as in it will smash a city like New York into dust for a full 50Km radius, or it's a real planet killer - as in big enough to wipe all life (as we know it) off the face of the earth... how does KNOWING that it's going to hit, prevent anything?

"Oh we are safe and secure, because we KNOW it's going to wipe us all out?"

Who are the idiots who dream up joining the dots with this level of logic?
alfie_null
5 / 5 (3) Dec 16, 2014
How does knowing if they are going to hit or miss, actually prevent any catastrophe?
. . .
Who are the idiots who dream up joining the dots with this level of logic?

With a heads-up, ten million die. With no time for advance preparation, 100 million die.

If you were on an airplane that was about to experience serious trouble, like running out of fuel or unable to lower its landing gear, would you rather be told by the flight attendants to take whatever preparations were recommended, or would you rather they just encouraged you to lower your window shade and enjoy the in-flight entertainment?

I'd be cautious about labeling others idiots.
FainAvis
5 / 5 (3) Dec 20, 2014
@Roll Tide Joe.
You get a 1 for praying on a science site.

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