NASA has spotted a potentially dangerous asteroid heading toward the direction of Earth. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) recently found the new asteroid named, 2013 YP139, 27 million miles away from Earth. The asteroid is 0.4 miles wide and threatens to have world-wide consequences if impact with the Earth would occur.
In comparison, the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russian last year was estimated to be between 55 and 65 feet in diameter. Hundreds of people in Russian were injured from the event and millions of dollars in damages occurred when the meteor entered the Earth’s atmosphere over the Russian skies.
Asteroid 2013 YP139 is not in any immediate danger to strike the Earth, but the asteroid does raise some concerns at NASA when it passes by the Earth at about the same distance away as the Moon at approximately 300,000 miles. The Moon’s semi-major axis is an average distance of 238,857 miles from Earth, but the Moon does get farther and closer to the Earth. The closest the Moon gets to Earth is the perigee at 225,622 miles and the farthest point or apogee is 252,088 miles.
During 2010 and 2011, NEOWISE detected over 158,000 asteroids before getting decommissioned on February 17, 2011. During that time NEOWISE discovered 38,000 new asteroids and 135 Near-Earth Objects (NEO). NEOWISE also detected 155 comets and discovered 21 new ones. NASA successfully revived NEOWISE from its 19-month hibernation on September 20, 2012. NEOWISE has five other missions remaining up until funding runs out on the project later this year.
NASA’s NEOWISE spotted the potentially dangerous asteroid 2013 YP139 heading for Earth by scanning the background of space looking for any disruptions or distortions from the object’s movement for what could potentially be a NEO.
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Amy Mainzer is leading the NEOWISE mission. Mainzer says that NEOWISE’s infrared sensors detect heat from the objects enabling NASA to learn about the size and reflective properties of the potential threat. Asteroid 2013 YP139 is jet-black and is similar looking to coal here on Earth. NEOWISE detected the dark hard-to-see asteroid by using the spacecraft’s infrared sensors.
The discovery of the asteroid is too new to make it on to the NEO risk chart at this time. Asteroid 2013 YP139 is not expected to make its near-Earth pass within the next century. Currently there is only one asteroid on the NEO risk chart. NASA is keeping their eye on asteroid 2007 VK184, however this asteroid only registers the minimum score based on NASA’s impact hazard scale.
NASA uses the Torino Impact Hazard Scale to measure the threats posed to Earth by collision with a NEO. The scale is based from 1-10 with 0 being a zero chance of a NEO collision with Earth to a 10 where there is a certain collision danger. A 10 on the scale is where the NEO will cause a global climatic catastrophe that will threaten future human civilization from continuing to survive here on Earth. An event occurring at level 10 on the Torino Impact Hazard Scale will affect both land and sea around the world. Level 10 events can occur at a frequency of once every 100,000 years or more.
With NASA’s NEOWISE being decommissioned once again later this year, it makes one wonder how civilization will spot and measure the next dangerous asteroid or NEO heading for Earth.
By Brent Matsalla