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by Jason Ray Morton 6 months ago in Science
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By Jason Morton

Image by Guillaume Preat from Pixabay

Nasa Warns About Asteroid 4660 Nereus

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, there is an asteroid bigger than the Eiffel Tower that will break into Earth's orbit in just over a week. A huge, 1082 foot (330 meters) space rock, which is as big as a football field, is headed our way. NASA has its watchful eyes on Asteroid 4660 Nereus.

4660 Nereus, estimated to be nearly 1100 feet in length, will come within 4.6 million miles of earth. The distance puts it within range of being "potentially hazardous."

If all goes well and nothing changes, the asteroid should pass by the earth at a safe distance, traveling at near 14,700 miles per hour.

Reasons To Be Concerned

The simplified version of the answer to the question, "Why be concerned?" is that it takes very little to throw something traveling at 14,700 miles per hour off its' trajectory. On November 24th NASA was in final preparations to launch the DART mission, a critical mission in the development of a planetary defense system against asteroids. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test could be the first craft to alter the path of an asteroid, a technique that if successful, will help to defend our planet in the future.

On the opposite side of the mission to intentionally redirect them away from the earth is the haunting reality that anything that is out there could alter the path of an asteroid and send it on a collision course towards earth.

Image by Reimund Bertrams from Pixabay

What Is The Dart Mission Going To Do

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test is directed by NASA and involves several other groups including the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC, the Johnson Space Center (JSC), Glenn Research Center (GRC), and Langley Research Center (LaRC).

Dart is a planetary defense initiative that will test technology for keeping the Earth safe from potentially threatening asteroid collisions. The kinetic impactor technique will be tested as it's hoped it will change the trajectory of an asteroid in space. The mission is being led by APL and managed by the NASA Solar System Exploration Program at the Marshall Space Flight Center. This is where the planetary defense coordination office is located along with the mission directorate's Planetary Science Division is at NASA headquarters in Washington DC. If you weren't aware we had all of those different offices now you shouldn't feel alone.

DART is a spacecraft that was launched into space on a Falcon X Rocket developed by SPACE X. The craft is designed to make an impact on an asteroid as a test of the technology. DART's first target asteroid isn't a threat to earth. It's a perfect testing ground for the technology to learn if intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid can be considered an effective way to change its course, in the event of an Earth-threatening asteroid coming close to the earth before the ones believed to be possible threats in October of 2027, the year 2030, 2036, 2060 and 2072. To reiterate those are possible threats, depending on variations in trajectories over the coming years.

While there is no known asteroid larger than 140 meters in size that have a significant chance of hitting the Earth in the next 100 years, only about 40 percent of the asteroids that could hit the earth have been found.

NASA.GOV Thumbnails

To put it into context, any fast-moving space object that comes within 4.65 million miles of our planet is considered to be in the potentially hazardous category. One small, fractional change, in the trajectories of the giant space rocks, could spell disasters for our home. This particular hunk of rock has been out there for a very long time. Asteroid Nereus was first discovered by astronomer Elenor Helin, in the year 1982.

What if it did happen to strike the planet?

This is the reason we spend so much on the technology being developed to protect our world from such things as asteroids. A boulder-sized asteroid, perhaps fifty feet across, traveling at roughly 20 kilometers per second, would release explosive energy on impact that is the equivalent of an atomic bomb. Now, imagine the possibilities of an enormous asteroid traveling at the same speed but weighing 1.4 billion tons. The strike would be devastating on an unfathomable level. Comparing this strike to the power of an atomic bomb, it would be like all of the atomic bombs on the earth went off at the exact same time and in the exact same place.

The Last Major Effect Of An Asteroid On Earth

There are hundreds of scientists worldwide that are on constant watch for asteroids that threaten to make an impact on the Earth. Fortunately, most of the ones they find have little or no effect on the planet. But, on occasion, some will get close enough to impact our lives. On February 15, 2013, an asteroid 20 meters in diameter entered the atmosphere of Russia at a speed of nearly 20 kilometers per second. It exploded about 30 kilometers above the earth in a massive air explosion. The power of the explosion was estimated to be 20-30 times more powerful than that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The explosion created an intensely bright flash of light, brighter than the light of the sun, and generated an immensely powerful shockwave that blew out windows all over the area below and injured some 1500 people. It was just over 10,000 tons. Check out the video below.

While NASA and the best scientific minds on the planet work to develop defensive capabilities to protect the planet, early warning of an impact is crucial to saving as many lives as possible. Currently, with all the best technology in the world, it's still far too possible that a planet-killing asteroid could slip by undetected until it's too late to attempt any action.

The realities of the plans and theories for protecting us from an asteroid collision are two-fold. There are several theoretical studies are ongoing, including the DART test and kinetic impacts, that all require advanced knowledge of the impact. First, we have to know about the potential impacts in time. Second, we have to have a workable plan to save as many lives as possible, and workable technology capable of defeating a planet killer.

Even as most asteroids explode before they hit the ground, imagining the variations is something that most of us don't want to consider. Who really wants to know this is possible before it happens, especially as there's no current way to prevent them from impacting? But, consider this, the Russian event in 2013 involved a 20-meter asteroid that exploded 30 kilometers above the earth. It injured 1500 people from that distance. If this current one was to hit the planet, Neurus is over 100 times larger.

Why Not To Panic

From the earth to the moon is typically 238,855 miles. Neurus is expected to get no closer than 2.4 million miles as it comes through our orbital path. That's about 300 earths away from our homes. So, we should be fine unless something fairly drastic happens between now and December 11th.

Final Thoughts

Will we ever get hit by another extinction-level asteroid strike? Will another one of that magnitude threaten our planet? In 1997 there was an asteroid dubbed the 97-XF11 that is expected to make a near-Earth fly by in October of 2027. It was announced then that there was a possible impact trajectory based on potential changes in the flight path due to gravitational influences. It still remains nearly 5 million miles away from us in its current trajectory. It's comforting that the experts consider within 4.9 million miles of the planet a reason to show concern. They're paying attention and studying what to do. As a tax-paying citizen, this is what our tax dollars should be used for, protecting our world from threats.

Asteroid 4660 Nereus should fly right by on December 11th with little effect on our world, other than to keep some astronomers very busy and excited. Is it something to be concerned about? Most certainly! Do I expect that NASA can absolutely keep us safe? NO. I'll explain why.

There's simply no way, as long as we are too involved in wars, dealing with millions, and millions of wasted dollars by our politicians, and spending money on things that don't benefit humanity, that we can afford to watch all of space. In all of the infinity of the universe... well, Billy Bob Thornton says it better.

Thanks for reading. Keep your head aimed at the stars and watch for what's coming. You never know when you might be the one to discover something amazing in the universe.


Sydney Technology News





About the author

Jason Ray Morton

I have always enjoyed writing and exploring new ideas, new beliefs, and the dreams that rattle around inside my head. From the current state of the world to the fantastical ideas of science I've enjoyed exploring them. Time to share them.

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