What would you do if a massive asteroid was coming our way?
We’ve all likely enacted disaster movie scenarios in our heads. Thankfully though, we won’t have to witness one on May 6, despite recent reports to the contrary.
The reports came over the weekend with news that NASA had estimated a space rock the size of the Great Pyramid was “likely” to hit Earth on May 6. Thankfully, asteroid 2009 JF1 will actually pass us by.
How and why did the alarm bell start ringing when this particular asteroid arrived? The answer shows just how impressive the world’s asteroid detection systems are, while at the same time highlighting the fact that we would be insecure if a large asteroid came our way.
New data show that 2019 JF1 has a 1 in 1,700,000 chance of hitting Earth.
Until recently, asteroid 2009 JF1 was on the European Space Agency’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Center’s risk list, with the probability of hitting Earth during a close-up approach in May being estimated at 1 in 4,000. However, it was eliminated from the top 10 in February this year.
One of the reasons behind the 2009 JF1 reassessment was that researchers lost sight of the first discovered space rock in 2009, meaning they could not get as much data as they wanted in its orbit. It will come close to the earth. Since then, instruments used to calculate asteroid orbits have been improved and new observations have allowed astronomers to re-evaluate risk.
In a statement in February, ESA said the 2019 JF1 was “pushed [below the list] with other conventional products that pose less threat”.
New data show that 2019 JF1 has a 1 in 1,700,000 chance of hitting Earth. Not only that, but the size of the asteroid has also been reassessed, which shows that it may be the size of a school bus, which means that even if an impact situation occurs, it will “not be a significant concern.”
Asteroid hitting Earth is almost negligible at 0.000001% annually.
While news readers around the world collectively sigh with relief, the news highlights the current lack of technology to orbit a large asteroid in orbit around the Earth. Last year, a team of scientists from NASA and ESA collaborated to participate, in which a catastrophic collision event was discovered six months before the impact. They found that with our current technology, such a catastrophe could not be prevented.
However, we can take comfort in the fact that the probability that the asteroid that will end civilization will hit Earth is very low at 0.000001% per year. What’s more, other space agencies, including NASA and the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA), are developing technologies aimed at changing the orbit of an asteroid. NASA’s Dual Asteroid Diversion (DART) mission, in fact, will soon collide with the asteroid Dimarbos soon after a small-spherical moon orbits in September this year.
Our current technology may not be advanced enough to prevent disaster, but the rate of current innovations suggests that we will soon get better service than dinosaurs when it comes to self-defense.