Astronomers Discover Asteroid Just 2 Days Before It Almost Hits Earth


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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Astronomers discovered an asteroid just two days before it narrowly missed Earth.

There would not have been enough time to prevent an impact if the asteroid’s course had been slightly different.

Asteroid 2016 RB1 came within 23,900 miles of Earth Wednesday morning, which is shockingly close to the orbit of some communications satellites. Astronomers discovered the asteroid Monday using the Mt. Lemmon Survey telescope in Tucson, Arizona. The asteroid was up to 52 feet across, and it’s the third asteroid this month to travel between the Earth and the moon.

If 2016 RB1 had struck Earth, the impact alone could have released 119 times the energy of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It would have created gusts of wind of up to 3,620 miles per hour and caused buildings to collapse.

2016 RB1 was detected so late that only a few observers were able to track it, including the Virtual Telescope project, and Ernesto Guido of the Remanzacco Observatory.

When NASA director Charles Bolden was asked in 2013 what the space agency could do if a similar asteroid was on a collusion course for a major city, he simply replied “Pray.”

NASA announced in January that it has formalized a Planetary Defense Coordination Office to defend Earth from asteroids that could potentially end humanity.

Globally, asteroid detection programs have found more than 13,500 near-Earth objects of all sizes — 1,218 near-Earth objects have already been found this year, according to the Minor Planets Center. Roughly 1,500 new asteroids that could potentially impact Earth are found every year.

NASA estimates that more than 90 percent of “world-killer” asteroids, which have diameters of more than 3,000 feet, have already been discovered. The agency is now focused on finding objects that are 450 feet in diameter or larger, which could devastate a city or country if they struck Earth.

In the event an asteroid couldn’t be prevented from hitting Earth, the Planetary Defense Coordination Office would work with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Defense, and other federal agencies to coordinate disaster response.

The federal “omnibus” budget approved last month includes $50 million for near-earth object observations and planetary defense, up from just $4 million in 2010.

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