Asteroid the size of a whale that was only spotted on Sunday will skim past Earth today
Every day there are new things to worry about in the world. Whether it's terrorist attacks, the rise of fascist movements, global warming, or the unstable relationship between North Korea and every other nation on Earth, sometimes things feel particularly precarious. It's strange to think that we could have been wasting all our time worrying about these world-changing scenarios if an asteroid obliterates the planet in an instant.
Not that this latest spotted asteroid will in fact make contact with the Earth, but as it sails by it will serve as a reminder that even our massive planet is vulnerable to the cosmos. This asteroid, which has been named 2018 CB, is set to come as close as just one-fifth of the distance between our planet and the moon today, passing at around 17:30 EST.
2018 CB is between 50 and 130 feet wide reportedly, making it potentially larger than a blue whale. It was first spotted last Sunday by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) near Tuscon, Arizona, who thankfully discovered that it will only skim past Earth. However, NASA's definition of a dangerous asteroid is any one that comes within 4.6 million miles of the planet, and this one will fly just 39,000 miles away.
Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said that asteroids only get this close to our planet once or twice a year. Chodas explained:
"Although 2018 CB is quite small, it might well be larger than the asteroid that entered the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, almost exactly five years ago, in 2013.
"Asteroids of this size do not often approach this close to our planet - maybe only once or twice a year."
Chodas is referring to the February 2013 incident in which a 62-foot meteor shattered over Chelyabinsk in Russia. It broke up into multiple pieces as it entered the atmosphere, scattering debris and creating a shock wave that smashed windows, damaged buildings and injured hundreds of people. The energy of this asteroid was equivalent to 500,000 tonnes of TNT.
In such an event, we wouldn't be able to deflect an asteroid, but there are contingency plans to protect lives. This would involve predicting the trajectory, size, shape, mass, and composition of the asteroid, then evacuating the impact area and moving key infrastructure as best as we can. Yet there are some new techniques that are being developed.
NASA is working on a small spacecraft capable of preventing asteroids from hitting the Earth. There's a test planned for a small non-threatening asteroid using this method in 2024, which will be the first-ever mission to demonstrate a deflection technique for planetary defense. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) would use a kinetic impactor technique to hit the asteroid and shift its orbit, which will hopefully prepare us for any major incident that could occur in the future.