Scientists Warn of Potential Asteroid Impact that Could Occur in as Little as Three Months
The asteroid, measuring about 131 feet (40 meters) in diameter, is the only celestial body in the European Space Agency’s ‘Risk List’ catalogue said to have a chance of hitting our planet this year.
An asteroid known as 2006QV89 has a small chance of striking Earth, according to a recent Risk List update by the ESA.
ESA astronomers say the asteroid could strike our planet on 9 September, with the chance of this happening estimated to be about 1 in 7,299. According to the ESA, if its present course continues, the asteroid will pass some 6.85 million km from Earth. NASA classifies ‘potentially hazardous asteroids’ as those approaching to within about 7.5 million km of our planet, and those whose diameter reaches 460 feet.
2006QV89 already made multiple passes past Earth throughout the 20th century, with close approaches listed starting in the early 1950s, although it was first seen through a telescope only in 2006 by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Observatory in Arizona. If the asteroid does not hit Earth, it will make its next pass near the planet in the year 2032.
The asteroid is fourth in the ESA’s Risk List, with asteroid 2010RF12, a smaller 9 meter-diameter object having the highest estimated risk of striking Earth, listed as 1 in 16. That asteroid will make its next close pass near the planet in 2095.
The ESA organises near-Earth objects according to the Palermo Scale, with objects with a figure of less than —2 deemed to indicate no likely consequences for the planet or its inhabitants. On this scale, 2006QV89 has a strike risk of —3.63. 2010RF12, meanwhile, has a risk of —3.26.
Scientists and engineers from around the world, including NASA and the Russian Academy of Sciences, have been working on a number of programs to detect space hazards, prepare for possible strikes, and even create space-based systems to alter deadly asteroids’ paths before impact.
Even small asteroids can pose a threat to human life. In February 2013, a meteorite about the size of a bus exploded over the city of Chelyabinsk in central Russia, leaving about 1,500 injured by the shockwave generated by the explosion, with most of the injuries caused by shattered glass.
A century earlier, in June 1908, a massive explosion was reported in eastern Siberia, with about 2,220 square km of local forest leveled by a mysterious source later revealed to be an air burst caused by a comet or meteorite. That event was said to have had the equivalent force of the explosion of 10-15 megatons of TNT.