Asteroids take aim at the Earth

2014-05-27 09:41
Earth as seen from space.

Earth as seen from space. (Shutterstock)

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Cape Town - A number of asteroids are set to pass the Earth, with one coming very close to the planet on Wednesday.

Asteroid 2014 HM2 and 2014 GH35 will pass the Earth on Tuesday at a relatively safe distance of 15 million and 20 million kilometres respectively, but on Wednesday, 2014 KF22 will pass just one million kilometres from the Earth.

Tuesday's space rocks are massive at between 100m to 300m in size, and though KF22 is smaller at about 30m, it is travelling almost double the speed at 38 000km/h.

Asteroids can potentially cause huge impact is they strike the Earth and if a sufficiently large body hits, it would cause global catastrophe regardless of the location of the impact zone.

An asteroid of 10km in diameter is regarded by astronomers as an extinction event, similar to the one that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Future collision

In 2013, the Chelyabinsk meteor exploded in the atmosphere over Russia, caused widespread damage and injuries to around 1 500 people.

The explosion was equivalent to around 30 times the power of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

The Moon is about 384 400km from the Earth and while this orbit will see safe passage for the Earth from KF22, asteroids orbit the sun and any minor change from gravity could result in a future collision.

Nasa and other space agencies have accelerated their NEO (Near Earth Object) observation capability in an effort to quickly map the orbit of the objects which could cause catastrophic damage should they impact the planet.

The agency recently activated its Wise (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) programme (NEOWISE) which in just 25 days of operation, discovered 857 bodies in our solar system.

While some were known, the programme discovered three new objects hundreds of metres in diameter.

The European Space Agency recently set up the NEO (Near-Earth Object) Co-ordination Centre located at Italy. The facility will monitor objects that could threaten the Earth and is part of the European Space Research Institute.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    space  |  astronomy

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