Asteroid fly-by didn't pose a risk of striking Earth, but NASA is working to catalog space rocks that could pose a threat – and be ready to deflect them.
Whew, that was close.
A massive asteroid, nearly two miles wide, hurtled past Earth late Friday.
It was “near” by the standards of astrophysics – just 3.5 million miles away.
That’s actually more than 14 times further from Earth than the moon. So you probably didn’t feel any cosmic breeze when the asteroid named 1998 QE2 flew by at about 5 p.m. in America’s Eastern time zone.
But such rogue rocks warrant close watching, given the potential devastation that could occur if one were to strike Earth.
The need to safeguard the planet – against both large asteroids and potentially against smaller objects like the one that caused injuries this year near Chelyabinsk, Russia – was the subject of recent congressional hearings.
Experts at two hearings sounded a mix of optimism and caution.
“Much more needs to be done,” warned John Holdren, director of the president’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. “In general, detection of NEOs [near-Earth objects] and prediction of future orbits are challenging endeavors, especially when one considers that orbits can change as a result of encounters with other objects.”
In his prepared testimony, he said that almost every day, “at least one 10-meter near-Earth asteroid (part of the undiscovered population of about 50 million) passes the Earth inside the orbit of the Moon.”