Asteroid Fly-By

January 26, 2015

paintball-asteroid-0Thick overcast of deep gray this afternoon on California’s north coast — sunshine aplenty this morning, but quickly replaced first by a dense ground fog, which lifted a bit to form a dull, depressing sky.

Another space rock encounter/near miss tonight: ‘A massive asteroid, roughly twice the size of the Rose Bowl stadium, will safely fly by Earth late Monday.’

Operative word there, for all of us, is ‘safely.’

(Illustration: ‘An artist’s concept of the asteroid Apophis (Image ESA),’ found here).

More on the big boy via National Geographic:

The large asteroid, called 2004 BL86, measures about a third of a mile (half a kilometer) across.
It will make its closest approach to Earth on January 26, coming within only 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from our planet—about three times the distance separating the Earth and the moon.

Also making it of interest to astronomers is the fact that it belongs to a group of 551 known near-Earth asteroids that have the potential for impact sometime in the future.
Luckily, 2004 BL86 doesn’t seem to have our number just yet.

Technical data and how best to view 2004 BL86 can be found at Sky & Telescope.

Another close encounter with a space rock, though, this one is huge, always opens the discussion on the earth getting side-swiped by one of them — so far, good fortune.
A look at that aspect from Forbes:

While scientists like those in NASA’s Near Earth Object Program are dedicated to discovering and tracking potentially hazardous asteroids (roughly defined as asteroid or comets with the potential to come within about 4.6 million miles of Earth — 2004 BL86 will come within less than 750,000 miles), humanity still relies largely on dumb luck to protect us from a catastrophic asteroid impact.
This fact was demonstrated clearly two years ago when a large meteor went undetected until it exploded in the Earth’s atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, releasing thirty times m0re power than the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima and injuring over 1,000.
There’s also evidence gathered from the network of sensors that monitors for nuclear explosions that at least two dozen more such impacts have occurred since 2000, mostly in the ocean or the atmosphere.
And yet today we could be even worse off when it comes to detecting approaching space rocks than we were on the day that bolide rocked Russia in 2013.
That’s because last year the program in Australia that surveys the southern sky for comets and asteroids that may want to pay us a violent visit was closed down due to a lack of funding.

And we just kick back, and just don’t understand.
Last September, the Guardian did a space-rock overview and noted:

At a press conference earlier this year, former Nasa astronaut Dr Edward Lu announced that there are around 1m asteroids in the Earth’s vicinity “with the potential to destroy a major metropolitan area”.
He teed up an animated graphic to demonstrate how unprepared we are.
The graphic showed the Earth in orbit among the dangerous asteroids we knew about and were tracking, around 10,000 of them.
Seen like this, our planet looked like a pedestrian hustling along a busy street, not overly troubled.
Then Lu changed the graphic to show “what it really looks like out there” – the Earth ploughing on through a million-strong field of city-killing asteroids.
I saw the same pedestrian, now trying to make it across a train station concourse in the middle of rush hour, avoiding collisions purely by fluke.
“Blind luck,” as Lu put it.

WTF! We’ll see in the morning…or not.

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