Tomorrow, an asteroid that's at least a mile wide will pass by Earth. While NASA considers the object, named 1998 Or2, to be "potentially hazardous," it won't hit us. This time. It won't get closer than around four million miles away. Above is a time lapse of the asteroid captured through a telescope by amateur astronomer Ingvars Tomsons in Riga, Latvia. As the asteroid and Earth continue to orbit our sun, it'll continue to be a risk. And this rock is not the only one that could someday sock it to us. At National Geographic, Nadia Drake explains the risk of a catastrophic astronaut impact and NASA's fascinating planetary defense plan, including their Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) planned for next year. From National Geographic:
"[The object that will pass us tomorrow] just a whopping big asteroid," says Amy Mainzer of the University of Arizona, one of the planet's leading scientists in asteroid detection and planetary defense. "It's smaller than the thing thought to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, but it is easily capable of causing a lot of damage."
An asteroid passing relatively close to Earth is more common than most people realize. Every year, dozens of asteroids that are big enough to cause regional devastation pass within five million miles of Earth—the cutoff for potentially hazardous asteroids. On average, one or two space rocks large enough to cataclysmically impact a continent pass by each year.
Earth will almost certainly confront a space rock large enough to obliterate a city, or worse, at some point in its future. If humans are still around when that day comes, it would be prudent to have a plan for protecting the planet. That's why NASA is launching a spacecraft next year to conduct the first test of one promising strategy for stopping a killer asteroid: Hit it while it's still far enough way to alter its course.
"Why NASA plans to slam a spacecraft into an asteroid" by Nadia Drake (National Geographic)
image: "Time lapse photography of Asteroid 52768 (1998 OR2). Tracked by amateur astronomer Ingvars Tomsons at Riga, Latvia, through a telescope (600/154 reflector CCD HEQ5). Series began 2020-09-04 20:11:49 UTC, ended 2020-09-04 21:45:11 UTC" by Ingvars Tomsons (CC BY-SA 4.0)