Here we go again! It seems astronomers from Russia have discovered another asteroid ( see photo) that is expected by NASA to pass by the Earth at a distance of less than that of the moon’s orbit, and, according to astronomers at Pisa University in Italy, potentially as close as 20,000 miles, which is less than the breadth of a hair in astronomical terms. This discovery has been confirmed by astronomers in other countries. Don’t panic yet, because this close flyby isn’t due to happen until the year 2065 (October 17, to be exact), but this doesn’t mean we can just ignore it. For one thing, we don’t know all the variables that will influence the course of the asteroid in the time between now and its’ potential rendezvous with our planet. These include the gravitational effects from other bodies it passes, interstellar dust, and even the pressure of the solar wind. Furthermore, astronomers, particular those in Russia, certainly haven’t forgotten the 150-meter wide meteor that exploded over the city of Chelyabinsk on February 15th of this year, with a force ten times that of the atomic bomb that exploded over Hiroshima. It isn’t certain yet just how big this newly-discovered asteroid, which has been named MASAD1 UG1 is, but since it was discovered so early, it is probably much larger than the Chelyabinsk meteorite, and if it should actually hit the Earth, it could cause a lot of problems, which is putting it mildly.
Whether MASAD1 actually hits us or not, its’ discovery points out that the danger of a large asteroid hitting the Earth is a real danger, and not merely the product of a science-fiction writer’s imagination. It is now widely accepted by scientists that the Earth has been hit by giant meteorites and other objects from space numerous times, and that these collisions were probably responsible for a number of planet-wide extinction events, such as the extinction of the dinosaurs about 60 million years ago. Even though NASA has recently beefed up its’ near-Earth object detection program, even it admits that it doesn’t know all the objects that could potentially pose a threat to us. Even if we are lucky enough to see the object well in advance, as with MASAD1, we still need to come up with a way to either deflect or destroy it before it hits us. These could include deflecting it through the use of gravity (unfortunately, tractor beams have yet to be invented), or using small nuclear blasts to either alter its’ path or even to destroy it, if that becomes necessary. One thing is certain; by 2065 Bruce Willis will probably be too old to do it himself.