Last Saturday, a relatively small asteroid passed by the planet Earth. In astronomical terms, the encounter could be considered as a near miss but astronomers said that the fly-by posed no danger to the planet.
The bus-sized asteroid sped past the planet during the early hours of the morning last May 3. Astronomers observing the asteroid say that it passed within 186,000 miles of the planet Earth. The asteroid's trajectory was initially alarming due to the fact that it would pass by the planet at a distance nearer than that of the moon. In astronomical terms, such distances are enough to raise worries in average individuals. However, scientists say that asteroids passing by the planet at distances closer than the moon are actually quite common and happen fairly often. The newly discovered asteroid was named 2014 HL129.
"Actually, a small asteroid safely passed Earth about 8/10 the distance of our moon. It's not all that uncommon," says NASA's Asteroid Watch Twitter account in response to a query from a curious Twitter user.
NASA's Near Earth Object (NEO) Program also regularly monitors celestial objects with trajectories that could take them close to the planet Earth. Aside from 2014 HL129, the agency is also tracking a total of 10 near Earth objects that have passed or will pass very close to the planet this April and May alone. Over the year, NEO actually monitors hundreds of these objects regularly zipping past the planet at blinding speeds.
Asteroid 2014 HL129 is around 25 feet wide and is travelling at a relative velocity of 6.37 kilometers per second. If the asteroid did hit the Earth, it would smash into the planet with a force that could easily obliterate a small city or a large town. Scientists estimate that such an impact would have half the power of Little Boy, the atomic weapon that was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during the closing months of the Second World War.
The asteroid was found by astronomers from the International Astronomical Union's Lemmon Survey Team using a large telescope located in the Catalina Mountains in Arizona. The asteroid was discovered just last April 29, which raises concerns regarding the amount between finding an asteroid with a potentially dangerous trajectory and the actual fly-by.
Scientists have been busy looking for way to improve current capabilities of detecting potential threats from space. If scientists can discover dangerous asteroids while they are still a relatively long distance away, this may give the Earth ample time to prepare an appropriate response.
Scientists from around the world have also been exploring various methods of dealing with problem asteroids. Currently suggested solutions range from blowing them up with nuclear bombs are capturing them and parking them at a safe lunar orbit.