HAPPY NATIONAL NEAR MISS DAY by Derrick Rohl, Sudekum Planetarium Manager


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HAPPY NATIONAL NEAR MISS DAY by Derrick Rohl, Sudekum Planetarium Manager

What's National Near Miss Day, you ask? Well, on this day in 1989, an asteroid almost hit Earth! The asteroid itself is about half a mile across, and was traveling almost 50,000 mph.

Named 4581 Asclepius, it passed within 425,000 miles of Earth. That's almost twice the distance of the radius of the Moon's orbit around Earth. But, the asteroid passed through the exact point where Earth was just six hours earlier. A lucky day for Earth indeed, and certainly a close call.

4581 Asclepius is a type of asteroid we classify as a Near Earth Object, or NEO for all you Matrix fans. NEOs are a group of thousands of asteroids and meteoroids NASA monitors closely. If they do find an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, there are a variety of methods we could use to deflect or disrupt its motion and protect Earth. Planetary defense is, of course, a global issue; this would require international efforts to nudge an asteroid one way or another. Space.com has an article exploring this idea in more detail»

Looking back over our solar system's long history, the Earth has been hit many times. With its hot core, Earth survives these collisions, although the course of life on Earth has changed drastically as a result of impact events (remember dinosaurs?). The Moon's surface doesn't change as much over time, so when we look at it, covered in craters, we have a great reminder of the perils in space.

The scariest part of the story of 4581 Asclepius is that we didn't discover it until 11 days AFTER the near miss. Let's just hope that scientific progress since 1989 will keep us ahead of the curve for our next near miss.

- Derrick Rohl, Sudekum Planetarium Manager

Posted by Derrick Rohl at 5:25 PM
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