In an update Thursday, NASA reports that a third asteroid in the past 24 hours has passed Earth and this latest instance is the closest of the three. At its nearest point, asteroid 2014 EC passed within 38,300 miles of this planet—about 6 times closer than the orbit of the moon. NASA officials said the asteroid was 25 feet in diameter and passed by Earth at 4:21 p.m., ET on Thursday.
In addition to being the nearest, this latest asteroid was also the smallest. The first was asteroid DX110 on Wednesday afternoon. It measured 100 feet wide and came within 217-thousand miles of earth. The second one, asteroid 2014 EF, passed at around 10 p.m. ET Wednesday and was closer in size to 2014 EC and was about twice as far away.
NASA says that even though the latest pass was the closest yet, the Earth was never in any danger of being hit, adding that the odds of Thursday’s asteroid striking us were 1 in 2.7 million. Asteroid 2014 EC’s size is about half that of the asteroid that struck near Chelyabinsk in Russia in February of last year and caused injury to nearly 1500 people.
Recent asteroid appearances and the strike in Chelyabinsk have raised fears about space debris, and NASA says it has an answer in the works. In fact, they say we may soon have the first stages of a defense against those strikes.
In February, NASA announced plans for a project called an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). This would be the agency’s first ever attempt to identify and capture any asteroid that would pose an immediate threat to Earth. Once captured, ARM is designed to then redirect the asteroid to a safe orbit of the moon for exploration by Astronauts. NASA says there are several different projects being developed now to aid in ARM, including the new Orion spacecraft, Solar Electric Propulsion and something called a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The hope is to begin studying the asteroids by 2025.
NASA is studying two different concepts for the utilization of ARM. The first would be to manipulate an entire small asteroid. The other would involve taking a piece from a larger asteroid and returning it to the same orbit. In addition to diverting asteroids, the agency also hopes to fly astronauts to an asteroid to land on it and study it. In addition to defending the planet against asteroids, NASA will also consider the possibility of relocating people to neighboring planets. A manned fly-by of Venus and then Mars could begin as early as 2021.
Even though having three asteroids pass so close to us in such a short time seems ominous, NASA says that occurrences like this are fairly common. NASA’s website points out that every day we are bombarded with hundreds of tons of space particles. Asteroids the size of automobiles will hit the earth’s atmosphere about once a year and burn up before reaching our planet. They also add that every 2000 years we can expect a football field-sized meteoroid to cause significant damage to a localized area. How often does a civilization-threatening space rock come around? NASA says that happens every few million years.
By Chuck Podhaisky