The terrifying asteroid news shows no signs of stopping. Throughout 2016, several asteroids passed dangerously close to Earth, prompting NASA and FEMA to develop joint asteroid “war game” simulations in order to prepare for a hypothetical asteroid strike. Those preparations went a step further this month when the White House released its first official white paper outlining its own asteroid strike preparedness plan. Despite all these measures taken to try and prepare for a doomsday asteroid impact, NASA officials have admitted there’s not much the Earth could do in the event such a collision course was detected.

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The short amount of time between detection and fly-by of recent asteroids is worrying, to say the least.

Scared yet? If not, I’ve got some more sobering asteroid news for you. On January 9th, an asteroid flew dangerously close to Earth with only a few days’ warning. The asteroid, named 2017 AG13, is estimated to be between 36 and 111 feet (11 to 34 meters) in diameter and was discovered on January 7th by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona. That amount of mass would be enough for the asteroid to explode with the force of 700 kilotons - hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

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Image credit: Slooh observatory.

In February 2013, a similarly-sized asteroid exploded 30 kilometers  (18 miles) above Chelyabinsk, Russia, causing over one thousand injuries and damaging hundreds of buildings and vehicles. That asteroid was also undetected due to the fact that it approached from the same angle as the Sun, blocking it from Earthly view.

Was the White House’s asteroid response plan released just prior to this asteroid’s passing in order to send a message? The timing certainly seems coincidental. However, given the fact that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory tracks over 15,000 near-Earth objects, it’s likely that the increased frequency of killer asteroid fly-bys are merely a result of increased attention being paid to them. The technology to detect and observe these potential Earth-killers has only been around for a few decades now. Ignorance was bliss, wasn’t it?

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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