An asteroid between 11 to 34 meters across (36 to 111ft), roughly the size of 10 jumbo African elephants, made a remarkably close approach to Earth on Monday morning.
The space rock, dubbed 2017 AG13, passed by at a distance only half that of the Moon at about 10 miles per second.
It was moving very quickly, very nearby to us, said an astronomer with Slooh during a live broadcast of the surprise flyby at 7:47am ET on January 9.
asteroid (2017 AG13) missed earth by 0.5 lunar distances: diameter ~25 m, velocity 15.7 km/s, energy ~723 kilotons. https://t.co/NVeUEeiMfL
— Asteroids and Comets (@AsteroidMisses) January 9, 2017
The near-Earth object, or NEO, has a particularly elliptical orbit and actually crosses the orbits of two planets, Venus and Earth.
The asteroid was initially spotted by the University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey as recently as Saturday, January 7, 2017.
We caught newly discovered asteroid 2017 AG13 as it made an extremely close approach to Earth this morning. It was closer than the Moon! pic.twitter.com/uKjWzGXmMA
— Slooh (@Slooh) January 9, 2017
If a good size chunk of it made it through Earth’s upper atmosphere near a populated area, there might have been damage like we saw in 2013 at Chelyabinsk.
As of January, a total of 15,451 Near-Earth Objects have been discovered, according to NASA. An estimated 875 of these NEOs are asteroids with a diameter of approximately one kilometer or larger. Around 1,766 of these NEOs have been classified as Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs).
Earth appears to be utterly defenseless in the face of comets and asteroids that bring little warning. The researcher believes building an interceptor rocket and an observer spacecraft could avert catastrophe.
And the biggest problem, basically, is there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it at the moment.