A small asteroid barely missed Earth over the weekend, just hours after scientists first spotted the space rock.
The near-Earth asteroid 2017 BH30 got within 32,200 miles of the planet, about 7.6 times closer to Earth than the moon. The asteroid is about 19 feet wide, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Space rocks of that size only pose a threat to Earth or human life under extremely specific orbital circumstances, like entering the atmosphere at a very exact angle and speed. This isn’t to say they can’t do damage. A 65-foot object exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in February 2013, injuring more than 1,000 people.
Typically, however, asteroids have to be roughly 0.6 miles in diameter to actually significantly harm human life on Earth.
2017 BH30 was discovered by scientists at the Catalina Sky Survey in Tuscan, Arizona.
President Barack Obama rejected NASA’s most recent plan to detect asteroids on a collision course with Earth in mid-January.
NASA outright admits there’s not much the agency could do to stop an asteroid on a collision course with Earth without about a 5-year warning, and there’s not much that could be done to shorten response time.
Former NASA administrator Charles Bolden told reporters in 2013 that the only response to a “surprise” asteroid on a collision course with Earth is to “pray.”
In a recent “wargame,” NASA and other federal agencies was unable to launch a deflection mission before a simulated asteroid hit Earth in 2020, causing the “city-killer” to eventually slam into the ocean just off Southern California. Federal Energy Management Agency (FEMA) personnel were forced to coordinate a simulated mass evacuation of the metropolitan Los Angeles area due to a potential tsunami and impact damage.
Global asteroid detection programs found more than 15,679 near-Earth objects of all sizes: 171 new near-Earth objects were identified this year alone, according to International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planets Center. These newly discovered near-Earth objects are part of a much larger population of more than 700,000 known asteroids in our solar system.
NASA and its European partners are now focused on finding objects that are 450 feet in diameter or larger. Those could devastate a city or country if they struck Earth.
The federal “omnibus” budget approved last November includes $50 million for near-earth object observation and planetary defense, up from just $4 million in 2010.
A real asteroid came disturbingly close to Earth in March, and was 16 times closer to Earth than the Moon. It actually passed closer to the world than many communications satellites. Though Earth is safe for now, NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies identifies a 1-in-250-million chance an asteroid could impact Earth Sept. 28, 2017.
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