1200 Scientists have launched a campaign to save Earth from deep space impact as Asteroid thrice the size of the mammoth ‘Statue of Unity’ does a scary close flyby on November 20.
Asteroid Experts and concerned citizens-scientists have launched a campaign to raise funds and support for a project to ‘nudge off’ asteroids on a collision course with Earth. The movement comes at a time when we will witness one of the closest asteroid fly-bys in recent history.
On November 20, 2019, near-Earth object 2006 SF6 will roar past our planet at an astonishing speed of 17,800 miles per hour.
With an approximate diameter of 2,034 feet, the asteroid will come as close as 2.6 million miles of Earth. This will also be the closest flyby for the next two centuries. The distance might be in millions of miles but is pretty close by cosmic standards. It is 0.02886 astronomical units or roughly 11 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Space agencies designate an asteroid or comet coming within 1.3 astronomical units of the Sun as NEO.
The Chances of Asteroid 2006 SF6 hitting Earth
As per NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, the probability of 2006 SF6 hitting is certainly low. But a tiny change in its trajectory might result in a mid-air explosion causing structural damage and casualties in regions of Earth directly under it.
Earth sits in a shooting gallery of Near-Earth Objects like meteors and asteroids.
A catastrophic asteroid collided with Earth nearly 66 million years ago, causing a major extinction that wiped out two-thirds of all life including all the dinosaurs. Agencies discover at least 4 new such potentially dangerous near-Earth objects every day. However, many potential threats go undetected.
Why Scientists urge ‘Save the Earth’?
This knowledge puts Earth in a precarious position and scientists across the globe are concerned. The campaign launched yesterday November 15, 2019, aims to create the capability to detect and deflect potentially dangerous asteroids that are Earth-bound. Started by the co-founders of Asteroid Day, the Support Hera campaign wants to influence and thus promote more R&D into technologies to keep Earth-sheltered from future impacts.
It is named after Hera which is the planetary defense and asteroid deflection mission run by European Space Agency (ESA) and North American Space Agency (NASA) in cooperation. More than 1200 scientists launched the campaign at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, Germany. The campaign is also supported by the Observatoire de la Côte D’Azur, France and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany.
Other potentially catastrophic NEOs that will come close
Apart from 2006 SF6, two other dangerous asteroids are scheduled to come perilously close in the next week. Both have the ability to cause intense regional destruction. NASA tracks these potentially dangerous near-Earth objects (NEO). It has stated that collision is unlikely unless factors such as gravitational keyhole don’t influence the trajectory of approaching asteroids.
Collision is unlikely unless factors such as gravitational keyhole don’t influence the trajectory of the approaching asteroids.
Before 2006 SF6, 2019 UR2 will fly past at speeds of 30,000 miles per hour on November 18, 2019. 2019 UR2 is 721 feet in size and will come as close as 4.3 million miles from the Earth’s surface.
Next in line is 2019 UK6 with an estimated diameter of 361 feet speeds near 17,000 miles per hour. 2019 UK6 will also roar past on November 20, 2019, at a distance of 3.7 million miles away from Earth.
The Mammoth JF1 approaching in 2022
JF1 is a near-Earth object with a diameter of approximately 130 meters. This makes it bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. NASA discovered JF1 in 2009 and is closely monitoring it over the last decade through its Jet Propulsion Laboratory. However, NASA says odds stand at 1 in 3,800 for JF1 hitting Earth on May 6, 2022.
Even so, scientific estimates observe that if JF1 hits Earth, the impact will equal destruction from 230 kilotonnes of TNT. For comparison, the Hiroshima atomic bomb during WWII in 1945 produced a force of 15 kilotonnes of TNT.
If JF1 hits Earth, the impact will equal detonating 230 kilotonnes of TNT (Hiroshima Atomic Bomb was 15 kilotonnes).
In fact, a 2018 report from NASA to the White House on the dangers of an asteroid impact noted that NEOs bigger than 140 meters could potentially inflict severe damage to entire regions or contents striking with a minimum energy of over 60 megatons of TNT. The impact will be more powerful than the most powerful nuclear device ever tested.
How Asteroid Scientists are trying to safeguard Earth from Impact
So, NASA has built an automated asteroid watching system called Sentry. The highly automated collision monitoring system continuously scans the most current asteroid catalog for possibilities of future impact. It analyses all NEOs with chances of coming on a collision course with Earth in the next century.
Furthermore, global space agencies are working on tech to avert a future extinction event due to an asteroid collision. This also includes a mission to deflect such NEOs. So, the mission Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA) will attempt to change the trajectory of the smaller part of a double asteroid Didymos. Unusual binary asteroid systems amount to 15% of all cataloged asteroids.
Global space agencies are working on a system to deflect an asteroid from collision course and avert a future extinction event
Consequently, the AIDA will assess several new technologies including deep space CubeSats, inter-satellite links and autonomous image-based navigation techniques. Scientists are working hard to prove the viability of the AIDA as an effective weapon of planetary defense.