NASA was taken by surprise in 2013 when a small asteroid entered the atmosphere above the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia. The asteroid miss was discussed this week by NASA’s ‘On a Mission’ podcast host Leslie Mullen and Professor Greg Leonard, a senior researcher at the NASA financed Catalina Sky Survey. The NASA scientist began: “We really need to do a lot more, we need more hands-on deck I think. We really need a number of efforts across the planet.”
The NASA podcast presenter explained: “Part of Greg’s urgency comes from a congressional mandate directing NASA to find most of the asteroids that are 140m in size or greater by the year 2020.
“Observers helping NASA work towards that goal take note of everything they can find, but a Richard said earlier, the smaller asteroids can only be seen when they get close to Earth.
“And the really small ones can take us entirely by surprise, like the one that exploded over Chelyabinsk.”
Professor Leonard said: “The reason we missed it A) it was very small and so it pretty much needs to be on our Earth doorstep to be detected.
“And B) it came out of the direction of the Sun, it’s like in a car when you’re driving on a freeway, the Earth has a blind spot, and the blind spot is looking into the Sun in our daytime sky.
“We don’t have a capability yet to be able to do detections and certainly in the day sky. But, the saving grace here was that it came in at a very shallow angle, meaning that it travelled through a lot of thick atmosphere.
“And that thick atmosphere did its job in slowing down the asteroid so it burnt up in the atmosphere and fragmented.
“It was 20m, that’s small compared to what we’re looking for, and that produced a large shock wave in the upper atmosphere. It was a pretty serious event.
“But, we see now that these relatively smaller asteroids can be quite dangerous. So we’re wanting to up our game in finding asteroids of all sizes.”
The comments follow NASA unveiling plans to team up with the University of Central Florida (UCF) in order to find killer asteroids.
Data from NASA shows the third closest asteroid approach of 2019, closer than some satellites orbiting our planet. The satellite was travelling at speeds of 57,937mph, according to NASA.
Tony Dunn, an amateur astronomer, said 2019 RP1 “was undiscoverable prior to closest approach because it came from our daytime side, but it was picked up quickly when it entered our night sky”.
NASA estimates the rock was between 23 and 56 feet in diameter.
That makes it the same size as the rock that entered our atmosphere and exploded above Russia in 2013. causing plenty of damage.
While 2019 R91 passed without incident, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has warned the chances of an impact are more than people realise.
The NASA administrator said: “We have to make sure that people understand that this is not about Hollywood, it’s not about the movies.
“This is about ultimately protecting the only planet we know, right now, to host life – and that is the planet Earth.”