NASA astronomers were left stooped when 2000EM26 failed to show up on Monday. Despite the warnings NASA issued, the asteroid’s disappearance disappointed many amateur astronomers, who eagerly awaited footage. Slooh’s international team of observatories spent over an hour trying to find the rock during the broadcast from the Canary Islands. While the astronomers insisted that Earth is under no immediate threat, the streaming video could not chart the flyby.
According to NASA, the asteroid was due to fly past the planet at the beginning of the week. This sparked a debate about the risks of space debris hitting earth, especially in light of the damage caused to Russia just under a year ago by meteorites.
With 1.62 million miles separating Earth from the enormous rock, it was considered to be so close that scientists at NASA listed it as a Near Earth Object (NEO), a special status reserved for very near objects, which pose a possible risk to Earth.
The path and orbit of asteroids are refined over time. Scientists spend years observing asteroids, which it makes it somewhat unusual for a rock to go missing in space.
Slooh’s Michael Paolucci issued an international appeal to locate the missing rock. He called upon amateur astronomers to help locate the asteroid. As a reward, the work will be published and promoted on the organization’s homepage for a year.
Less than one year ago a shower of space rocks hit Russia. It is estimated that the rocks injured about 1,000 people and caused serious damage to several buildings. NASA failed to issue a warning last year despite the monitoring efforts of its asteroid charting program, which is why 2000EM26’s disappearance is so important to the community of scientist.
The asteroid’s disappearing act highlighted greater issues within NASA, particularly scientists’ ability to figure out not only where asteroids come from, but also predict an asteroid’s path before it arrives. Furthermore, budget cuts within the agency could lead to underfunding and resources being spread thin, especially when it comes to asteroid charting potentially hazardous asteroids, or PHAs, through the Near Earth Object Observation Program.
NASA has a budget of $20 million to run the program. Unfortunately, the space rocks in Russia were not spotted due to glare and other factors. The damage caused revealed the great danger asteroids pose to Earth, especially if astronomers cannot spot and chart the path of an asteroid.
Numerous books and films have explored the scenario of an asteroid hitting our planet. Most notably, the science fiction film Armageddon captured the imagination of a new generation of star gazers and space geeks. Although, the film became a box-office hit, astronomers were quick to point out that Deep Impact was more scientifically accurate.
Most observers do not comprehend how often asteroids fly pasts our planet each month. Some come much closer to Earth than 2000E26. Experts said the asteroid received better coverage because it fell roughly on the one year anniversary of Russia’s meteorite shower.
Asteroid 200EM26 is the same length of cruise ship. This pales in comparison to the asteroid in Armageddon, which was the size of Texas. While NASA was quick to issue a warning despite the fact scientists had not seen the asteroid in more than a decade, its disappearance could give an amateur astronomer the chance to prove himself.
By Simone Innamorati