A newly discovered asteroid whizzed past Earth at a distance closer than the distance between Earth and the moon. The near miss marks only the latest in a long series of near Earth collisions with extraterrestrial objects. The asteroid was named 2010 GA6, and has a size of 22 meters wide. Though it may not sound like much, if an asteroid hit Earth the size of 2010 GA6 it could cause considerable damage if it hit a city.
The object was approximately 223,000 miles away from Earth, which may sound far, but could have hit Earth if its trajectory had been changed by even one degree. The closest it came to Earth was at 7:06 PM Pacific Daylight Time on April 8, 2010. The object was first discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey operating out of Tucson Arizona. The incident isn’t particularly uncommon, as near earth objects come close to impacting the planet every few weeks, but they don’t usually get this close. And keeping track of these strange objects helps scientists determine how likely an impact with a major asteroid would be in the next twenty years.
Those prone to worry about events such as these should take comfort in the fact that Earth has not been hit by a major asteroid in several thousand years, making the impact during our lifetime extremely unlikely. And advanced notice of such an impact should be yet another layer of comfort. Earth currently utilizes both ground and space based telescope systems that look into the sky and take a look at potentially hazardous impacts so if the possibility of a massive asteroid strike ever became a reality, we could seek shelter and hopefully take proper precautions.
But how big would an asteroid have to be before it would pose a threat to civilization? A 100 to 300 foot long asteroid could easily destroy an area the size of Louisiana, but would not end all life on Earth. An asteroid one to one and a half miles long could easily cause that much damage to the planet, and could also increase or decrease the length of the year and the length of the day depending on where it hit us and when. In 2002 an asteroid of this magnitude passed near Earth, and could have easily ended civilization on this planet had it been slightly off in its trajectory.
For years, many have proposed the building of a system that would defend against asteroids by either launching nuclear warheads or some other form of deterrent, including laser systems. The proposals have been met with reservations often. Without an immediate threat, a solution to the looming possibility of asteroids seems unlikely. As it stands, we do not know what we are looking for when building a defense system. The asteroids could be small, like 2010 GA6, or they could be massive planet killers. In the end it will have to be vigilance and ingenuity that defends Earth from asteroids, not merely technology by itself.