MILLINOCKET, Maine, June 8, 2014 – It’s three football fields wide and it’s moving at 31,000 mph. If it were aimed at the Earth, our gravity would increase its speed to around 40,000 mph at impact. Scientists have nicknamed it “The Beast.”
Asteroid impact expert Mark Boslough, of Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico spoke about “The Beast” (asteroid 2014 HQ124) during a recent webcast.
“This one would definitely be catastrophic if it hit the Earth. If it hit a city, it would wipe out (the) entire metropolitan area.” He added, “You’d end up with a crater about 3 miles across. An event like that would break windows over 100 kilometers away.”
Luckily for us, early this week “The Beast” will pass some 700,000 miles away, out past the orbit of the Moon. That’s still pretty close by cosmic standards.
Earth hasn’t always been so lucky. Some 20,000 to 50,000 years ago, a small asteroid about 80 feet in diameter impacted the Earth and formed the simply named Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona.
In February 2013, a 65-foot-wide asteroid detonated without warning in the sky above the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia, shattering thousands of windows and injuring more than 1,200 people.
Scientists have found about 95 percent of the potential “civilization-enders” out there — mountain-size asteroids at least 0.6 miles (1 km) across. But there are probably more than 1 million near-Earth asteroids at least 100 feet (30 m) wide. Less than 1 percent of them have been discovered.
This chart of the inner Solar System shows the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Those other myriad ellipses show the orbits of near-Earth asteroids that we know about.
It makes one wonder how many times we can “dodge a bullet” from space. It’s surprising that bookies aren’t yet offering odds on those near misses.
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