A Surprise Direct Hit and a Predicted Miss in Asteroid News

Astronomers at NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies say a 100-foot-wide asteroid heading towards us at 34,000 miles-per-hour will just miss hitting the planet on March 7th. That would be comforting news except no one at the office warned us about the direct hit that occurred on February 6th. What should we believe, NASA?

According to scientists at NASA’s Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Asteroid 2016 TX68 could fly past Earth as far out as 9 million miles (14 million km) or as close as 11,000 miles (17,000 km). That’s fortunate because this 100-foot-long asteroid is bigger than the 65-foot-wide asteroid that created a 440 kiloton explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia, three years ago, injuring about 1,000 people.

Chelyabinsk meteor

Chelyabinsk meteor

That one showed up by surprise, kind of like the meteor that exploded over the South Atlantic Ocean on February 6th. No one saw this one coming either – or at least no one will admit they saw the Earth about to be hit by a meteor one-third the size of the Chelyabinsk meteor and didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news. Fortunately, the 23-foot-wide meteor created its 13 kiloton explosion over the ocean.

Approximate location of meteor explosion

Approximate location of meteor explosion

“No worries … that last one was too small,” you say. Maybe, but it was the largest since Chelyabinsk and didn’t get detected until after the fact. Experts say meteors in the 25-50 foot-wide range can cause nuclear bomb-sized problems if they hit the earth directly or explode in the low atmosphere.

These are considered to be once-a century events. We’ve had two in three years. Is anyone breathing easier?

It’s great that we have organizations watching out for large space objects and others actually thinking about ways to destroy or deflect them. Should we have faith that this is really going to give us accurate and sufficient warning or protect us … or should we just resign ourselves to the fact that occasionally ‘hit happens’?