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​Asteroid 4 Kilometres Wide Could Potentially Hit Earth

Simon Catling

| Last updated 

​Asteroid 4 Kilometres Wide Could Potentially Hit Earth

In news certain to calm the nerves of a global population, already terrified for their own existence in the wake of the Covid-19 coronavirus, an asteroid big enough to end human civilisation is expected to pass close by Earth in April.

NASA is keeping an eye on the colossal rock, estimated to measure up to 2.5 miles (4.1 km) across, and has officially named it 52768 (1998 OR2) - rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?

At a current supposed speed of 8.7km per second - in other words, 31,320kmh/19,461mph - the asteroid is projected to pass by Earth on 29 April and will be just 0.04205 astronomical units away from our planet at its closest.

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

An astronomical unit is the average distance from our planet to the Sun, which is about 93 million miles (149.6 million km), so 52768 (1998 OR2) will be just 3.9 million miles (6.29 million km) away at its nearest - or 16.36 times the distance from Earth to the Moon.

Of course, these are just estimates, albeit estimates made by very clever people whose job it is to track this sort of thing.

So - we cheerily ask ourselves - just how much damage could this abominable boulder do?

The National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy was put together by the US National Science and Technology Council in 2018 and reads: "Objects close to and larger than one kilometre can cause damage on a global scale. They can trigger earthquakes, tsunamis, and other secondary effects that extend far beyond the immediate impact area."

It's believed the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs measured about six miles (10km) across.

Don't worry, it's just an artist's impression... of Armageddon. Credit: Pixabay
Don't worry, it's just an artist's impression... of Armageddon. Credit: Pixabay

Dr Bruce Betts of The Planetary Society said: "There are a few asteroids that currently are known to have a low probability of hitting Earth in tens to hundreds of years.

"For example, one of the highest probabilities currently is an approximately 37m diameter asteroid called 2000 SG344 that has a 1 in 1,100 chance of impact in 2071.

"But these always are based on asteroid observations that have uncertainties in them."

However, smaller asteroids coming into the Earth's atmosphere are more common than you might think, although most simply burn up upon contact. There have been those that have broken through though, with Dr Betts citing: "Chelyabinsk size asteroids - about 20m that hit in 2013 - create shock waves that shatter windows and cause injuries.

"Tunguska sized - about 40m that hit Siberia in 1908 - could completely destroy a city or create a tsunami."

So there you have it: if you manage to survive the global Coronavirus epidemic, you may still get blasted out of existence by a giant bowling ball thrown randomly out of the cosmos. Oh well.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

Topics: World News, space

Simon Catling
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