WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An asteroid the size of a pickup truck was discovered just days before it passed Earth on Thursday, and while it poses no threat to humans, it could cause real damage. Astronomers say it highlights blind spots in our ability to predict things.
For years, NASA has made it a priority to detect asteroids much larger and more threatening than 2023 BU. This is a small space rock 2,200 miles from the Earth’s surface, closer than some moons. If it were to fly to Earth, it would shatter in the atmosphere and only small pieces could reach land.
However, 2023 BU is on the smaller end of the size group of asteroids between 5 and 50 meters in diameter, including those as large as an Olympic swimming pool. Objects of this size are difficult to detect until much closer to Earth, complicating efforts to prepare for objects that can affect populated areas.
The probability of a space rock, called a meteorite, hitting Earth when it enters the atmosphere is fairly low, depending on the size of the asteroid. According to NASA, every 1,000 years a 50-meter rock falls.
But with current capabilities, astronomers won’t know when such rocks will target Earth until days in advance.
“We don’t know where most of the asteroids are or if they could cause local or regional devastation,” said Terik Daly, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Physics.
According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the 20-meter meteorite that exploded in Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013 was a once-in-a-century event. It shattered tens of thousands of windows and created a shockwave that caused $33 million in damage, and no one saw it coming before it entered Earth’s atmosphere.
Some astronomers believe that relying solely on statistical probabilities and estimates of asteroid populations is an unnecessary risk if NASA’s ability to detect asteroids can be improved.
“How many natural disasters could we prevent with a billion dollars if we really did something?” said Daly, whose work focuses on protecting the planet from dangerous asteroids. There aren’t many,” he said.
avoid a really bad day
One of the major upgrades to NASA’s detection arsenal is the NEO Surveyor, a $1.2 billion under-development telescope that will launch from nearly a million miles from Earth and monitor a wide range of asteroids. This promises a significant advantage over today’s ground-based telescopes, which are hampered by daylight and the Earth’s atmosphere.
Its new telescope will help NASA meet a goal assigned by Congress in 2005: the expected total mass of asteroids over 140 meters, or large enough to destroy anything from a region to an entire continent. Detects 90% of
“With Surveyor, we’re focused on finding one asteroid that could cause a very bad day for many,” said Amy Meinser, NEO Surveyor’s principal investigator. is also tasked with obtaining good statistics on smaller objects that have shrunk down to the size of the Chelyabinsk Object.”
NASA is years behind congressional goals mandated to be completed by 2020. NASA last year cut the telescope’s 2023 budget by three-quarters of hers and proposed a two-year launch delay to 2028. Included in NASA’s scientific portfolio.
Asteroid detection became more important last year after NASA tested its ability to slam a refrigerator-sized spacecraft into an asteroid, knocking potentially dangerous space rocks off its collision course with Earth.
A successful demonstration called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) confirmed for the first time a method of planetary defense.
“NEO Surveyor is very important, especially now that we know we can do something from DART,” says Daly.
“So we have to find these asteroids.”
(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Andrea Ricci)