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World Asteroid Day 2021: The Space Rocks that Nearly Collided With Earth

Asteroid 1998 OR2. Credits: NASA.

Asteroid 1998 OR2. Credits: NASA.

ESA estimates there are 6,00,000 known asteroids in our Solar System, out of which 10,000 are classified as near-Earth objects (NEOs) because their orbits bring them relatively close to Earth’s path.

Thanks to the asteroid belt in between Mars and Jupiter that Earth is quite protected from incessant attacks of wayward space objects. However, it does not ensure that our planet is completely protected from an asteroid collision. There have been quite devastating asteroid landings on the planet as scientists have found. The Chicxulub asteroid landing that happened nearly 66 million years ago has been speculated to cause a mass extinction event that saw most non-flying dinosaurs and many other species wiped out. According to European Space Agency, there are 6,00,000 known asteroids in our Solar System, out of which 10,000 are classified as near-Earth objects (NEOs) because their orbits bring them relatively close to Earth’s path.

In recent history as well, scientists have recorded asteroids that nearly hit the planet. Let us take a look at such events:

1. In April this year, an asteroid called 2021 GW4 flew past the planet travelling at the speed of 30,094 kmph. At its closest, the asteroid was just over 19,312 kilometers away from Earth. According to NASA, the asteroid was between 3.5-7.7 meters long.

2. Earlier in March this year, asteroid 2001 FO32 made its closest approach at a distance of about 2 million kilometers. The asteroid flew past the planet at a speed of 1,24,000 kmph, which according to NASA was faster than the speed at which most asteroids encounter Earth.

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3. Last year, asteroid 2020 CD3 wasthe second asteroid spotted from the Earth after 2006 RH120, the first temporary satellite that was discovered in September 2006. Measuring between 1.9 and 3.5 metres in diameter, 2020 CD3 was estimated to have a mass of 4,900 kg.

4. In August 2020, a car-size asteroid named 2020 QGwas reported to have flown within about 2,950 kilometers of Earth. What was surprising about this event was that NASA did not see the asteroid coming. The Palomar Observatory in California first detected the asteroid about six hours after it flew by Earth. It was reported that the asteroid came towards Earth from the Sun’s direction.

5. On April 29, 2020, another asteroid 1998 OR2flew past earth. Although the distance between the Earth and the asteroid was 3.9 million miles (6.3 million kilometers), it was significant because of its size. The asteroid has been categorized as a large “potentially hazardous asteroid" becauseover the course of millennia, very slight changes in the asteroid’s orbit may cause it to present more of a hazard to Earth than it does now, mentioned NASA. Measuring one kilometer in width, the asteroid had the potential of destroying life had it hit the planet.

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first published:June 30, 2021, 07:49 IST