If this Russian scientist is correct, Brian May’s Asteroid Day on June 30, 2015, may be too little, too late to save us from a mountain-sized asteroid he recently discovered.
Vladimir Lipunov is a lead scientist on the team which spotted asteroid 2014 UR116 on October 27, 2014, at the MASTER-II observatory in Kislovodsk, Russia. Estimated to be 370 meters (1214 feet) in diameter, he describes it in a video released this week by the Russian space agency Roscosmos as a mountain-sized object that could hit the Earth with an explosion 1,000 times greater than the surprise Chelyabinsk meteor which exploded over that Russian city in 2013, shattering windows, damaging buildings and injuring over a thousand people.
2014 UR116 will cross Earth’s orbit every three years. Lipunov says he’s concerned about it because it came up on us so fast and its trajectory is constantly and unpredictably affected by the gravitational pull of the planets it passes.
We need to permanently track this asteroid, because even a small mistake in calculations could have serious consequences.
What does NASA say about 2014 UR116 and Lipunov’s warning? Here’s an excerpt from its press release:
While this approximately 400-meter sized asteroid has a three year orbital period around the sun and returns to the Earth's neighborhood periodically, it does not represent a threat because it's orbital path does not pass sufficiently close to the Earth's orbit.
The release also refers to computations made after observing another object with a similar orbit six years ago.
These computations rule out this object as an impact threat to Earth (or any other planet) for at least the next 150 years.
Not everyone is that confident. Viktoria Damm from the Siberian Geodesic Academy Planetarium says Mars could affect the trajectory of 2014 UR116, although not for at least two years. Natan Esmant, an expert with the official Space Research Institute in Moscow, says a collision is “quite likely” but not for at least a few decades.
“Not for at least …” is not the most reassuring way to start a sentence about possible asteroid collisions, whether it's from Roscosmos or NASA. Should we be worried about UR116?