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NASA Fails To Spot Whale-Sized Asteroid That Skimmed Past Earth

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What to know about the mysterious 3200 Phaethon

A whale-sized asteroid, which could have easily destroyed an area the size of New York on collision, flew past Earth at nearly nine kilometers per sec.

Surprisingly, the U.S. space agency, NASA, failed to detect the asteroid and spotted it only the day after it skimmed past the planet.

 Asteroid 2017 VL2

The asteroid, referred to as 2017 VL2, was just about 117,480 kilometers from Earth when it sped by. The distance between the asteroid and the planet was just a third of the distance between the moon and Earth. NASA first observed the potentially lethal asteroid from the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii on Nov. 10, however, it had already flown past Earth on Nov. 9.

If asteroid 2017 VL2 had collided with Earth, it could have annihilated life within six kilometers of the impact area.

Measuring between 52 and 105 feet in diameter, the space rock belongs to the Apollo group of asteroids. It will skim past Earth again in 2125. Apollo asteroids are near-Earth space rocks, which were discovered in the 1930s by German astronomer Karl Reinmuth. The number of known Apollo space rocks are estimated to be above 8,000 in number.

NASA Tests Global Response Capabilities To Asteroids

NASA scientists recently conducted the first international asteroid tracking exercise, with the help of a real space rock, to analyze global response capabilities to asteroids that can be a real threat.

The exercise was conducted to characterize, track, and recover a real asteroid as a potential impactor and to test the International Asteroid Warning Network for dangerous asteroid observations, communication, prediction, and modeling.

The exercise targeted asteroid 2012 TC4 to carry out the test. The observations are helpful for researchers to understand that subtle effects, such as solar radiation pressure, can gently push the orbit of small asteroids.

"This campaign was an excellent test of a real threat case. I learned that in many cases we are already well-prepared; communication and the openness of the community was fantastic," co-manager of the near-Earth object segment in the European Space Agency Space Situational Awareness program, Detlef Koschny said.

Boris Shustov, science director at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Astronomy, added that the 2012 TC4 campaign was a great opportunity for scientists to demonstrate readiness and willingness to take part in serious global cooperation to address the potential hazard to Earth posed by NEOs.

NASA conducted the exercise to also test internal U.S. government communications up through the executive branch and across government agencies, in the face of a real threat of impact.

At present, the U.S. space agency’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office administers the NEO Observations Program. It is responsible for detecting, tracking, and characterizing potentially hazardous NEOs. The program also issues warnings about potential impacts and is tasked to coordinate U.S. government response planning if there is an actual threat.

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