The name is terribly mundane, but the consequences of the close pass of asteroidlast week are anything but. This peanut-shaped, 1400-yards, asteroid whizzed past Earth at a distance of about 1 million miles. At 4 time the Earth-Moon distance, that seems pretty safe, but in astronomy sizes that is a buzz call.
“Good news: Wednesday was the closest this asteroid has been in 400 years, and it won’t get this close again for at least 500 years. It’s not going to hit Earth, and if it were, we’d know it by now.
Somewhat disconcerting news: When the radar at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico spotted it, astronomers realized the space rock was larger than they had thought. Today’s estimate is about 0.8 miles wide.
Let us, for a moment, consider a scenario in which a 0.8-mile-wide asteroid strikes Earth. First, the magic number for total apocalypse is 60 miles. That’s how big an asteroid would need to be to wipe out human life. At six miles wide, even the asteroid that led to dinosaur extinction was much smaller than the Earth-obliterating scenario.
When physics tells me an asteroid this large would release 1031 Joules of kinetic energy, I take note. That’s how much energy the sun releases in a day. Think about that for a minute. But don’t dwell! Breathe easy.
Luckily, there’s nothing that large orbiting in our neighborhood. Instead, we’re plagued by articles like this that pop up every other month when little space rocks pass our planet 1 million miles away.”