Dangerous Asteroid Skimmed Very Close, Shows Defense of Earth Requires Planetary Cooperation
July 28, 2018 (EIRNS)—Astronomers detected an asteroid approaching close to Earth on July 24, that was large enough and travelling fast enough to devastate an entire city in a strike the size of a nuclear bomb, had its trajectory not taken it 45,000 miles away from our planet on July 25. This asteroid, named 2019 OK, is the seventh asteroid to pass the Earth within the bounds of the Moon’s orbit so far this year.
Although 45,000 miles may seem like a long distance, it is 0.2 lunar distance, the distance between Earth and the Moon, and the event underscores the need for global cooperation in tracking and, as necessary, deflecting or destroying potentially harmful objects in the vicinity of the Earth. The United States, China, India, and Russia are all committed increasingly to efforts to explore the Moon and, potentially, incorporate lunar resources in the terrestrial economy. As human and human-directed travel between the Earth and the vicinity of the Moon grows, including permanent space stations orbiting the Moon, geosynchronous satellites, and, in the near future, routine passenger and freight transport, there is increasing danger of collision with what are called Apollo asteroids, near-Earth asteroids with perihelion distances less than 1.017 astronomical unit (AU), and semi-major axis greater than 1 AU. An AU is the distance between Earth and the Sun. Most of these Apollo asteroids are believed to come from the Asteroid Belt.
A network of space-monitoring devices, both on Earth and in space, is required to keep track of potential threats. The approach of asteroid 2019 OK was first tracked by SONEAR Observatory in Oliveira, Brazil on July 24. It was estimated to be between 187 and 426 feet in diameter and to be travelling at 54,000 miles per hour as it passed by on July 25. Although that speed and size could have a devastating effect anywhere it struck, it did not have the potential to produce global devastation. At this point, NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) and cooperating agencies believe that only about 90% of those potentially world destroying asteroids are being tracked.
Asteroid 2019 OK has a highly elliptical (stretched out) orbit that takes it from outside the orbit of Mars to inside the orbit of Venus, passing through the region of Earth’s orbit along the way.
The difficulties in determining how to defend against these objects without damaging the Earth or its environs is even more critical and more complex than tracking them is. These are tasks that must accompany the development of increased human activity in space and must be done with cooperation throughout the planet and beyond.