A Close Call

How did we manage to miss this event?

Asteroid shaves past Earth’s atmosphere
13:59 23 August 04
NewScientist.com news service

The closest observed asteroid yet to skim past the Earth without hitting the atmosphere, was reported by astronomers on Sunday.

The previously unknown object, spanning five to 10 metres across, has been named 2004 FU162. It streaked across the sky just 6500 kilometres – roughly the radius of the Earth – above the ground on 31 March, although details have only now emerged.

The MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s asteroid-hunting LINEAR telescope in Socorro, New Mexico,US, observed the new object four times over a 44-minute period, several hours before its closest approach in March.

The previous record for the closest asteroid approach to Earth was set on 18 March by an object called 2004 FH which missed the Earth by about 40,000 kilometres.

That was a much larger object, around 30 metres in diameter – big enough to produce a one-megaton explosion in the atmosphere. Although it was likely to have exploded so high that the energy would have dissipated harmlessly. The smaller 2004 FU162 would have burned up as a fireball ending with a smaller explosion, had it ventured into the Earth’s atmosphere. (Emphasis added.)

I have questions: What do mean, likely to have “dissipated harmlessly”? How much smaller of an explosion? Did we really only have “several hours” notice?

The other interesting detail is that both of these asteroids came within two weeks of one another back in March. Have there been others since then, maybe even closer, that haven’t been announced yet?

Most important: Is something out there aiming at us and starting to get the range?

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