Science

Astronomers: Undetected 'City-Killer' Asteroid Barely Missed Earth

Astronomers: Undetected 'City-Killer' Asteroid Barely Missed Earth”

Asteroid 2019 OK - around 100 metres in diameter and racing at 24 kilometres a second - raced past earth at around 11.22am on Thursday morning.

Due to the fact that the asteroid was flying towards us from the direction of the sun, astronomers had barely any warning it was headed our way. "It snuck up on us pretty quickly", Michael Brown, a Melbourne-based observational astronomer, told The Washington Post.

"It's probably the largest asteroid to pass this close to Earth in quite a number of years".

Nasa's planetary defense officer, Lindley Johnson, says scientists have found 95 percent of all near-Earth objects measuring one kilometer (two-thirds of a mile) or bigger. However, chunks of rock the size of Asteroid 2019 OK are certainly large enough to destroy an entire city.

Astronomers only noticed the space rock within the past few days, when astronomers at SONEAR Observatory in Brazil picked it up.

Swinburne University astronomer Associate Professor Alan Duffy: "It would have hit with over 30 times the energy of the atomic blast at Hiroshima".

While it isn't large enough to bring on an Armageddon-style event reminiscent of the dinosaur-killing asteroid, Brown notes that a moderate-size impact 'could devastate a city'. The asteroid was so close that if someone were looking at the right spot in the sky, they would be able to see it using only binoculars.

"It's threading tightly between the lunar orbit".

For an object of its size, many say that's a bit too close for comfort.

While the probability of an asteroid impact may be low, the effects could be cataclysmic. Almost 90 percent of the larger asteroids have been identified.

Brown said Asteroid 2019 OK proves there are "still risky asteroids out there that we don't know of" that "can arrive on our doorstep unannounced". "We actually have the technology to find and deflect certainly these smaller asteroids if we commit to now". Asteroids also are fainter the further they get from Earth.

2019 OK has a very elliptical orbit, taking it from the asteroid belt beyond Mars to within the orbits of both Earth and Venus.

It passed by at a distance of 356,000km on Wednesday. It was traveling at a speed of 42,926 miles per hour as it zipped by Earth. If the asteroid had struck Earth, most of it would have likely reached the ground resulting in devastating damage, Brown said. "People are only sort of realizing what happened pretty much after it's already flung past us".



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