Is this giant asteroid on its way to destroy Earth? An expert weighs – tech2.org

Is this giant asteroid on its way to destroy Earth? An expert weighs


It’s undeniable: 2020 was a pretty tough year, and despite some glimpses of hope, 2021 hasn’t started much better. We are still locked in the middle of a global pandemic, the government is more focused on cracking down on activists than solving the climate crisis they are protesting, and according to NASA, a potentially dangerous asteroid will pass uncomfortably close. to the earth.

Specifically, asteroid 2001 FO32 will float past the planet on March 21. Moving at just under 77,000 miles per hour and measuring about a kilometer in diameter, it will be the largest and fastest known asteroid to pass this close in 2021.

So is it time to start digging the underground bunker or give up completely and go to a quarantine rave, because who cares about COVID in the face of an extinction-level event? Not exactly, explains Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer and professor of astrophysics at Queen’s University in Belfast.

“The impact of a small asteroid, say 200 to 300 meters in diameter, could devastate a state or a small country,” he says. “An asteroid one kilometer in diameter or larger could produce climatic effects around the world that could result in severe food shortages and, of course, devastation near the point of impact.”

This doesn’t exactly sound reassuring, but he adds that there is no need to worry about asteroid 2001 FO32: “The good news is that, due to the observations of many astronomers, we know that it cannot affect us for at least the next 200 years. “While it will have close approaches at that time, such as March 22, 2052, these actually provide useful opportunities to study large near-Earth asteroids and learn more about them,” and we can do it without worry. “

In fact, it appears that we are relatively safe from asteroid threats for some time. According to Fitzsimmons: “NASA-funded searches have now discovered almost all of those larger asteroids and determined that they are not a risk in the next two centuries.” Now, he adds, it is important to focus on the smallest asteroids: “to discover them and know where they are going.” Asteroids that have a chance to pass through the atmosphere and hit the ground pass us closer than the moon roughly every five to 10 years.

We can consider ourselves lucky that asteroid 2001 FO32 left us unharmed on March 21, but what if you want to see it fly in the night sky? Unfortunately – “or fortunately!” Fitzsimmons Notes: You won’t see much unless you have access to a decent telescope. “At the closest approximation, it will still be two million kilometers from us and it will be 100,000 times fainter than the faintest stars you can see with the naked eye.”

Because the asteroid is moving so fast, observers who do have telescopes can have the opportunity to detect its motion, mapped against distant stars, in real time.

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