Asteroid 2014 YB35

On Friday March 27, asteroid 2014 YB35 passes our planet at a distance of nearly four and a half million Kilometers. No small rock, YB35’s estimated girth of 750 meters or so, likely accounts for news stories and internet chatter of “NASA on high alert” and “near miss” hysteria.

As of today, 1563 such objects grace the PHA (Potentially Hazardous Asteroid) roster. A PHA is any space object orbiting within 100 LD (1 Lunar Distance being the distance between Earth and the Moon) and large enough to make it through our atmosphere. 2014 YB35 will pass at 11.6 LD.

I’ve spent the last while pondering why sporadic asteroid buzz annoys me so much. As someone who pays attention to these things, a person devoting countless hours and energy in hope others start paying attention – reality dictates most won’t give it a second thought after Friday. The 1908 Tunguska event over Siberia – 2000 square Kilometers of forest obliterated by a asteroid estimated at 50 meters across, one that vaporized without making impact. Pondering Tunguska makes me grumpy. Intermittent excitement because something is large – tweeted today, forgotten tomorrow.

In conclusion, relax – 2014 YB35 is more “just another day” than “high alert” at NASA’s office. Statistically speaking, true “high alert” days are unavoidable – no different from catastrophic earthquakes and climate changing volcanic eruptions. Maybe I’m odd, rather than fret about probability in my lifetime or that of my children, I choose to learn all I can with detached interest. Go figure.

Small Asteroid Hits

The Chelyabinsk asteroid over Russia on February 15, 2013 was a “small asteroid” estimated at 20 meters across. Small, yet credited with shattering windows in 7,200 buildings over 6 cities, and injuring 1,500 people.

On November 14, 2014 NASA released a map produced by the Near Earth Object (NEO) program showing 556 small asteroid atmosphere “hits” from 1994-2013. Almost all of them “burned up”, and were classified as “fireballs”. Fireballs or bright meteors are known by the term “bolide”. The map below illustrates bolide events as universal – the orange dots are day, and blue night. Size difference in dots pertain to “optical radiant energy”. I’m no scientist, and fear my explanation of the term might fall flat – the link below is helpful in that respect.

NASA announced the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) in June 2014, a ambitious program aimed to identify, capture, and redirect potentially hazardous asteroids to an orbit around the Moon. See link below…

On a grander scale, all objects greater than 100 meters and orbiting or likely to orbit Earth within 100 Lunar Distance (LD) – 1 LD being the distance from Earth to the Moon, are called Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHA) – as of today 1512 of these objects are being monitored.

 View larger | Sizes of red dots (daytime impacts) and blue dots (nighttime impacts) are proportional to the optical radiated energy of impacts measured in billions of Joules (GJ) of energy, and show the location of impacts from objects about 1 meter (3 feet) to almost 20 meters (60 feet) in size. Image credit: Planetary Science

View larger | Bolide events, 1994-2013. A bolide is what most people would call a fireball or very bright meteor. Map shows location of atmospheric impacts from small asteroids about 1 meter (3 feet) to almost 20 meters (60 feet) in size. It shows 556 separate events in a 20-year period. Orange dots indicate daytime events; blue dots indicate nighttime events. Sizes of dots are proportional to the optical radiated energy of events. Image via Planetary Science