Asteroid buzzes Earth as meteorite slams into Russia’s Urals
A 150-foot asteroid, 2012 DA14, hurtled safely past Earth on Friday, hours after a meteorite slammed into a lake in Russia’s Ural Mountains region.
Asteroid 2012 DA14’s flyby marks the closest known one for a rock of its size, passing within 17,150 miles. The rock flew between the earth and many telecommunications satellites at around 2pm Eastern Time. Russia suffered a direct hit, however. Over 900 were injured from sonic booms rippling through the air as the meteorite tore past.
Astronomers say the two events were coincidental, and the objects were traveling in opposite directions.
Asteroid 2012 DA14 was invisible to astronomers in the United States at the time of its closest approach on the opposite of the world. But in Australia, astronomers used binoculars and telescopes to watch the point of light speed across the clear night sky.
Scientists at NASA’s Near-Earth Object program at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory estimate that an object of this size makes a close approach like this every 40 years. The likelihood of a strike is every 1,200 years.
But Friday’s meteor impact raised questions about scientists’ ability to protect the Earth against dangerous asteroids.
“We are in a shooting gallery, and this is graphic evidence of it,” said former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, chairman emeritus of the B612 Foundation, committed to that goal.
Asteroid 2012 DA14 was too small to see with the naked eye. But it still could have caused damage. It sported a 143,000-ton heft, releasing the energy equivalent of 2.4 million tons of TNT and wiping out 750 square miles.
The asteroid thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was 6 miles across.
By comparison, NASA estimated that the meteor over Russia was about 49 feet wide and weighed about 7,000 tons before it hit the atmosphere. It was about one-quarter the size of the passing asteroid.