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Target Earth: Near Earth Asteroids Swarming the February Skies

February 14, 2011 Comments off
Near Earth Object 2006 WJ3
Near Earth Object 2006 WJ3
Photo by Steve E. Farmer Jr.

February 12, another newly discovered hazardous asteroid (PHA) was announced. As most other NEO’s in the past, this one safely passed by Earth…this time.

Potentially Hazardous Asteroid 2011 CU46 was announced on February 12, 2011. This hazardous asteroid did not drift by Earth at only a few thousand miles as in the case of Near Earth Object 2011 CQ1; 2011 CU46 safely passed by at a distance of a little more than 316,000 miles – which is still considered a “near miss” in astronomical terms. PHA 2011 CU46 has a diameter of 20m – 50m; and this particular object would likely cause a massive fireball and surface damage if it were to impact Earth in a populated area.

Potentially Hazardous Asteroids & Near Earth Objects

As defined by NASA, A Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA) is based on parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth. An asteroid which comes within an orbital intersection distance of 0.05 AU with Earths orbit and is of a diameter of 110m – 240m, is normally identified as a potentially hazardous object. Other factors are also included.

Since the February 4 announcement of NEO 2011 CQ1, over forty more Near Earth Objects have been discovered, identified, and catalogued.

Apophis Likely to Miss, What about PHA 2011 AG5?

PHA 2011 AG5 was discovered by Mt. Lemmon Survey on January 8, 2011. After more than one-hundred extra observations of this Potentially Hazardous Asteroid were collected by both amateur and professional astronomers, orbital elements were calculated and it was determined that 2011 AG5 could possibly impact Earth in the year 2052. More observations and research is needed to refine the orbit of this asteroid.

Images
Near Earth Object 2006 WJ3 - Photo by Steve E. Farmer Jr. Comet 81P/Wild - Photo by Steve E. Farmer Jr. Comet 4P/Faye - Photo by Steve E. Farmer Jr. Comet 177P/Barnard 2 - Photo by Steve E. Farmer Jr.

2011 AG5 is very similar to the famous asteroid Apophis which could possibly impact the Earth in the year 2036. Apophis is a little larger in diameter that 2011 AG5 and is expected to pass by Earth twice as close as 2011 AG5. Both of these minor planets are large enough to cause substantial damage to a major city on Earth if impact were to occur, but with any luck these minor planets will spare Earth and safely pass us by.

Preparing for Asteroid Impact

It’s only a matter of time before the announcement comes that Earth will obtain an impact from a minor planet large enough to cause wide-spread damage. It is this reason why more studies be performed on minor planets – to help further improve our understandings on these objects in hopes to give us a better defense option when that announcement comes. We have the technology to detect these hazardous objects and certain programs are working on methods to deflect or destroy asteroids. With any luck, they will design a fail-proof method to eliminate the potential risk from these objects impacting Earth.