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Explained: Is the ‘Burj Khalifa-sized’ asteroid approaching Earth a threat?

In reality, a civilisation-threatening risk from space objects is extremely rare – occurring once every few million years, according to NASA.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | November 27, 2020 9:28:17 pm
Burj Khalifa asteroid, asteroid nasa, asteroid hitting earth, how safe are asteroid, Asteroid 153201 (2000 WO107)Asteroids the size of 1 km or more in diameter, capable of causing catastrophic worldwide effects, are extremely rare, impacting our planet once every 100,000 years.(Representational Image)

A relatively large-sized asteroid, named 153201 (2000 WO107), would be safely moving past Earth on November 29 (Sunday), and will be the closest to our planet at 10:38 am Indian Standard Time.

And, as it happens every time an asteroid is approaching, social media platforms have been set abuzz with panicky users talking about doomsday scenarios. This week, the same is happening due to 153201 (2000 WO107), the asteroid is “the size of Burj Khalifa”.

In reality, a civilisation-threatening risk from space objects is extremely rare – occurring once every few million years, according to NASA.

Asteroid 153201 (2000 WO107)

The asteroid has a diameter of more than 500 m, and is over 800 m high – about the size of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building that measures 830 m. It was discovered in the year 2000, as per NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory website.

It has been classified as near-Earth Object (NEO), which are a group of comets and asteroids nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits which allows them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood. These objects are composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles, and occasionally approach close to the Earth as they orbit the Sun.

It is also listed as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA), which NASA defines “based on parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth”.

“Specifically, all asteroids with a minimum orbit intersection distance (MOID) of 0.05 au or less are considered PHAs,” as per the space agency. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

Asteroid 153201 (2000 WO107): Should we be worried?

While this asteroid is large in size, it will be maintaining a distance of over 43 lakh km when it passes by the Earth, more than the distance between our planet and the Moon.

According to The Planetary Society, there are estimated to be around 1 billion asteroids having a diameter greater than 1 metre. The ones that can cause significant damage upon impacting Earth are larger than 30 metres.

As per NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Programme, asteroids that are 140 metres or larger (bigger than a small football stadium) are of “the greatest concern” due to the level of devastation their impact is capable of causing. However, it has been pointed out that no asteroid larger than 140 metres has a “significant” chance of hitting the Earth for the next 100 years.

Don’t miss from Explained | What is 16 Psyche, the asteroid believed to be worth $10,000 quadrillion?

A meteoroid– a small particle from a comet or asteroid – the size of a football field impacts Earth every 2,000 years, causing serious damage to the area it hits.

Asteroids the size of 1 km or more in diameter, capable of causing catastrophic worldwide effects, are extremely rare, impacting our planet once every 100,000 years. The probability of comets causing such damage is even lower, around once every 500,000 years.

The Chicxulub impactor, the 10-kilometre diameter large space object that caused the sudden extinction of most dinosaur species, hit our planet 66 million years ago.

In a recent tweet, NASA said: “Yes, asteroids safely pass by Earth all the time, and there is no known asteroid impact threat for the next 100 years. Regardless, stories sometimes surface with alarming headlines surrounding particular asteroids, so we like to reassure everyone when we see such conversations.”

 

Is there a way to deflect asteroids?

Over the years, scientists have suggested different ways to ward off threats of more serious impact events, such as blowing up the asteroid before it reaches Earth, or deflecting it off its Earth-bound course by hitting it with a spacecraft.

The most drastic measure undertaken so far is the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA), which includes NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Hera. The mission’s target is Didymos, a binary near-Earth asteroid, one of whose bodies is of the size that could pose the most likely significant threat to Earth.

In 2018, NASA announced it had started the construction of DART, which is scheduled to launch in 2021 with an aim to slam into the smaller asteroid of the Didymos system at around 6 km per second in 2022. Hera, which is scheduled to launch in 2024, will arrive at the Didymos system in 2027 to measure the impact crater produced by the DART collision and study the change in the asteroid’s orbital trajectory.

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