Post 1,002 finds me pondering a near Earth asteroid. Not one of the 1,634 potentially hazardous objects currently identified and monitored by science – my thoughts are with 2015 VY105. Less than a day after discovery on November 14, VY105 passed over the Pacific Ocean at a distance of 34,000 Km. Trust me – that’s close.
Undetected until a few hours before passing, closer than many Earth orbiting satellites, traveling at an estimated speed of 62,000 km/h, we were never in danger. At 3 – 9 meters, VY105 wasn’t big enough to cause trouble. Even if it spanked our atmosphere, an asteroid that size would disintegrate before impact. Witnesses to a hypothetical demise, might have been rewarded with an outstanding fireball.
In October 2008, asteroid 2008 TC3 pulled a similar stunt. 19 hours after detection TC3 entered our atmosphere over the Sudan. Estimated at 4 meters, it vaporized long before hints of calamity. Small doesn’t necessarily mean harmless – in February 2013, a fireball and explosion over Chelyabinsk in Russia’s Ural mountains, blew out windows, injuring over 1,000 people. Undetected, this meteor wasn’t named, no impact crater was found. Science believes damage from an estimated 15 meter asteroid occurred when it exploded 15-20 Km above ground. Entering the atmosphere at a shallow 20 degree angle, it blazed across the horizon at over 62,000 km/h disintegrating at low altitude with the force of 300 kilotons TNT.
The asteroid that exploded near Chelyabinsk, Russia on Feb. 15, 2013 has provided scientists new insights into the risks of smaller asteroid impacts. This 3D simulation of the Chelyabinsk meteor explosion by Mark Boslough was rendered by Brad Carvey using the CTH code on Sandia National Laboratories’ Red Sky supercomputer. Andrea Carvey composited the wireframe tail. Photo by Olga Kruglova. Credit – Sandia National Laboratories.
Rather than criticizing astronomers over a few missed space rocks – plant seeds of collective determination to properly fund science. Cosmic science encompasses far more than raising a flag on Mars. Every satellite, probe, telescope and innovation takes us closer to solving the dilemma of rogue asteroids. VY105 managed to buzz Earth hours after making itself known – we have to do better than that.