New Rock On the Block

Huge Meteor to Zip
By Earth in November

Scientists are excited about it. Doomsayers, not so much. It turns out that a large asteroid is coming to visit our home planet before the end of this year, at a quite respectably close distance: the equivalent of only 0.85 of the distance between Earth and the Moon.
Considering its size, it’ll be an unique, and sobering, opportunity to scrutinize up close an object with the potential to end our civilization.
That’s why scientists are so eager to learn everything we possibly can from the event, just in case.
And that’s why apocalyptic cults of all stripes are so frustrated: damn it, it won’t be this time their prophecies will be fulfilled yet. Maybe next time around, folks. (Your graciously donated personal life savings won’t be refunded, though).
It’ll certainly come back but few people alive today may be here to see it. And that’s another legacy we’ll unwillingly leave to our children’s children. Have fun, kids.
Named 2005 YU55, heavens know why, this piece of rock, 1,300 feet in diameter, has been considered “armed and dangerous” and on you-know-what list since it came within 1.5 million miles of Earth, in April 19, 2010 (Earth Day, anyone?)
There’s something else unsettling about it too: it was way bigger than astronomers expected it to be when it came around. Such is the vagaries of the still incipient tracking of flying objects with potential to cause us catastrophic harm.
NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations program has found about 85 percent of the huge rocks but only 15 percent of those up to 460-feet wide that could still cause widespread devastation if they’d hit us.
Looking through this perspective, it’s startling then that Congress always puts up a fight when it comes to fund the program. For all our technological foresight, luck has been our biggest ally so far, and those cult freaks would us a great favor if, instead of praying for Armageddon, they’d lend us a hand warding off a potential dinosaur killer. But never mind that.
In February of this year, a tiny asteroid zipped by us within 3,400 miles, the closest-ever approach to our planet without hitting it. And nobody saw 2010 XC15 during its close flyby within 0.5 lunar distance in 1976; it wasn’t even discovered until late 2010.
The only sure thing about these two shooting stars and their steroid-enhanced brother is that, no matter who’ll be around then, they all will very likely catapult by us again in the near future. Oh, and that they’re not alone. Time to make a wish.

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