While we are constantly monitoring the skies, and have a pretty good idea of the existence of a wide variety of space rocks that are incoming, as well as dates in mind of when they’ll be close enough to tango with the Earth, that’s not to say that we can see everything or that we're aware of every one that exists.
In fact, a very recent encounter with an asteroid known as 2017 AG13 holds this fact very truthful. Astronomers reportedly had no idea that this space rock was headed towards Earth until just days before it whizzed past our planet at approximately 10 miles per second just the morning of last Monday.
Astronomers say that it came within approximately half of the distance between the Earth and the Moon (or about 126,461 miles) when it arrived and was following an elliptical orbit around the Sun when it came within its close proximity. Fortunately, that’s not close enough to slam into the planet; it was a close call, but we narrowly escaped being slammed by it for now. The same may not be able to be said for the future, however.
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
The rock itself, which was estimated to be anywhere between 36-111 feet wide, had the potential to cause some damage, and opens our eyes to all the potential the dangers that exist out there that we can’t or haven’t even spotted yet.
Fortunately, such-sized space rocks aren’t large enough to cause tremendous terror to our planet’s life. Instead, it likely would have just barely pierced our Earth’s magnificent atmosphere, creating a loud rumble in the skies similarly to that of the event that took place over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013. The energy from the event was so powerful that it shattered local building windows.
While asteroids aren’t particularly uncommon in our Solar System, especially at these sizes, what is uncommon is just how closely it managed to get to the Earth without being detected by modern-day space equipment. This is a real concern for astronomers who are always looking out for these sorts of threats.
NASA and other space experts are devising planet defense plans to help save our planet from possible future collisions, and while most plans are still infantile at this point in time, a good place to start is having a better idea of what’s coming for us, no matter what direction it could be coming from. Unfortunately, such a task isn’t easy to keep up with, as space is vast and mysterious.