If NASA Couldn’t See The Asteroid That Just Whizzed By Us, What Else Can’t They See?
Did you know that an asteroid just flew by our planet at an extremely close distance? The good news is that it was only about the size of a car, but the bad news is that NASA had absolutely no idea that it was coming. In fact, NASA only discovered it about six hours after it had passed us. If NASA could not see that asteroid coming straight at us, what else is heading toward us that they cannot see? It has been estimated that “about 17,000 big near-Earth asteroids remain undetected”, but the truth is that we don’t really know how many giant space rocks are floating around out there. Of course scientists all around the world are doing their best to catalog new potential threats all the time, but what most people don’t realize is that this is an area where our technology is still very limited.
The asteroid that almost entered our atmosphere on August 15th was hurtling toward us at 27,600 miles per hour.
In other words, it was traveling at almost 8 miles per second.
That is fast.
And according to the official NASA website, it came within just 1,830 miles of our planet…
Near Earth Asteroids, or NEAs, pass by our home planet all the time. But an SUV-size asteroid set the record this past weekend for coming closer to Earth than any other known NEA: It passed 1,830 miles (2,950 kilometers) above the southern Indian Ocean on Sunday, Aug. 16 at 12:08 a.m. EDT (Saturday, Aug. 15 at 9:08 p.m. PDT).
In astronomical terms, that is an extremely close shave, and NASA is openly admitting that “we didn’t see it coming”…
The flyby wasn’t expected and took many by surprise. In fact, the Palomar Observatory didn’t detect the zooming asteroid until about six hours after the object’s closest approach. “The asteroid approached undetected from the direction of the sun,” Paul Chodas, the director of NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies, told Business Insider. “We didn’t see it coming.”
This admission surprised many Americans, because most people assume that NASA would give us plenty of advance notice if a civilization-killing asteroid really was heading our way.
Of course that is not necessarily true at all. There are many giant space rocks floating around out there that are exceedingly difficult to detect, and that is especially true if they are coming at us from the direction of the sun…
There’s not much we can do about detecting inbound asteroids coming from the sunward direction, as asteroids are detected using optical telescopes only (like ZTF), and we can only search for them in the night sky. The idea is that we discover them on one of their prior passages by our planet, and then make predictions years and decades in advance to see whether they have any possibility of impacting.
NASA has a plan to improve our ability to detect incoming asteroids, and that will be welcome news for those that are concerned that a civilization-killing asteroid may be heading our way.
But the bad news is that the space telescope at the heart of NASA’s plan will not be launched until 2025…