Half-mile Wide Asteroid Close Approach on Wednesday

April 18th, 2017 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

An asteroid capable of destroying Washington D.C. and New York City at the same time will be making its closest approach to Earth on April 19.

At a half-mile wide, it will have over 30,000 times as much mass as the 2013 meteor which exploded over Russia in 2013:

Smoke trail high in the stratosphere from the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013.

The current asteroid, called “2014 JO25“, is traveling at the unimaginably fast speed of 75,000 mph. It has been estimated that an asteroid of this size is capable of wiping out an area the size of New England, and causing global cooling from the dust that would be lofted into the stratosphere. “2014 JO25” will be the closest appoach asteroid of this size in the last 13 years.

Good News, Bad News

The good news is that even at closest approach, the asteroid — about the size of the Rock of Gibraltar — will safely pass by about 4.6 times as far away from Earth as the moon.

The bad news is that this asteroid was only discovered in 2014, and even if it was on a collision course with Earth, there probably would not have been enough time to mount a mission to hit it with a nuclear-weapon tipped rocket. This is why NASA has been surveying the skies, discovering new asteroids on a routine basis. While most of these are small, the relatively recent discovery of Wednesday’s asteroid suggests we will not have much time to respond if we discover one on a collision course with Earth. I suspect we will eventually have a rocket designed and ready for an intercept, just in case.

Here’s a time lapse video of a very close approach of a small (100 ft. diameter) asteroid in 2013, taken with a camera using a “normal” 50 mm lens (I will be attempting something similar with a telephoto lens and star tracking, weather permitting). The asteroid is the slowly moving object traversing the left side; the fast object with a glowing trail on the right side is a large meteor:


49 Responses to “Half-mile Wide Asteroid Close Approach on Wednesday”

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  1. David Gray says:

    Just curious, but 75,000 mph relative to what? The earth itself is traveling through space at 66,700 mph.

    • I suspect relative to the sun, which is the usual frame of reference. If it was going to hit the Earth, I’m sure we would switch to that frame of reference. 🙂

    • Nate says:

      The question is, when NASA does discover an earthbound large asteroid, even with some years of warning, should we believe them? They could be just being alarmist. It is more likely that they are just looking to get more funding.

      Even if there is a consensus of maybe 97% of the experts in the world that this a serious threat, I don’t think that is sufficient to settle the issue. Science is not done by polls after all. The expense and risks of developing and deploying the technology to defend against this threat will be exhorbitant, and a few scientists are doubtful about the data and modeling.

      Members of congress and the president won’t know what to do, since, they are not scientists.

    • gbaikie says:

      relative to Earth, if it impacted Earth surface.
      75,000 mph is about 33 km/sec.
      The average impact velocity of space rocks hitting earth is
      about 20 km/sec. The least amount of impact velocity is Earth escape velocity- or about 11 km/sec. The fastest velocity of impactors can be more than 40 km/sec. Or comets would tend to hit earth at higher velocities.
      33 km/sec is pretty fast and would cause far more damage for it’s mass than normal.
      Typically it’s said that a comet or asteroid caused the extinction of dinosaurs. Which roughly means the impactor crater was caused by a faster and smaller rock or a slower bigger rock. Or roughly crater size is mostly about the energy of the explosion.

      Since Sun escape at earth distance is 42.1 km/sec:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_velocity
      Nothing can travel faster than 42.1 km/sec relative to the sun at earth distance [and remain in the solar system].
      Or roughly if something hit earth going faster than 50 km per sec, I would wonder if it is an interstellar object or if space aliens are involved.
      Or Earth’s gravity well AND it’s distance from Sun gives a range of fastest and slowest that a rock can impact the Earth. Venus has about same lowest possible impact velocity, but higher possible impactor velocity [and much higher average impact velocity. Sun escape at Venus distance is 49.5 km/sec. At Jupiter distance it’s 18.5 km/sec. And with Jupiter, it’s gravity is main factor causing high impact velocity [Jupiter escape being 59.5 km/sec. Or anything hitting Jupiter will impact at very high velocity, whereas Jupiter’s moons will have tend to have low impact velocities.

  2. Mike Bromley says:

    Run away! Run Away! No….wait…..

  3. RW says:

    One of these days one of these things is going to hit Earth if we don’t invest in tech. to find them all and destroy them if they’re on a collision course with Earth.

    I’d say the chances of something like this hitting Earth is exponentially greater than any catastrophe due to human induced global warming (if there is even a possibility at all).

  4. jimc says:

    Given the vastness of the solar system, the earth is a very small target. Yes, I know it has gravity, but it and other objects have velocity. And there is the atmosphere to take care of the small stuff. Yes, there have been catastrophes, but on a mega-year scale. Perspective.

  5. Steven Fraser says:

    As we consider mining of asteroids, perhaps part of the business structure for space could include asteroid-mounted Ion drives to ‘nudge’ asteroids into jupiter impact orbits, or out of the plane of the ecliptic entirely.

  6. Scott says:

    Some people voted for SMOD – Sweet Meteor Of Death – in the November election. SMOD doesn’t take rejection well.

  7. Julian Flood says:

    If you search for ‘hittile’ unders my name you will find an SF short about just this situation — I used it as an excuse to run through some more or less far-fetched propulsion systems.

    It would be a good project for a united world to get behind.

    JF

  8. TA says:

    NASA needs to make planetary defense the highest priority. The ability to operate in space that this requires will also be applicable to other space development goals such as developing the Moon and travling to Mars.

    NASA currently only has the ability to travel from Earth to low-Earth orbit, and has no capability to operate in space outside the space station.

    We need longrange orbital transfer vehicles and the infrastructure to support them. We need the capability to operate across the entire Earth-Moon system, from Earth’s surface to the Moon’s surface. We need vehicles that can accomplish all these tasks.

    Private companies are going to get into this Earth-Moon business in a big way in the future. NASA needs to use its resources to enhance this movement by providing basic transportation.

    The NASA infrastructure is slowly coming together, although we still do not have an official orbital transfer vehicle in development.

    We need to find the dangerous asteriods and then we need to have the ability to go visit them and put them on a new course. We can’t do that now.

    • David Appell says:

      At what cost? Big asteroid strikes are very rare…. when was the last life-threatening one, 65 Ma ago?

      • Taco Joe says:

        Hi David!
        When was the last time climate change created a “Climate Refugee”?

      • TA says:

        “At what cost?”

        The cost of developing an orbital transfer vehicle.

        NASA needs an orbital transfer vehicle that can range from low-Earth orbit to the Moon and back.

        This kind of vehicle would enhance many of the projects proposed by private companies in space such as a Moonbase, mining of asteriods, solar power satellites, and hotels in space.

        NASA had an orbital transfer vehicle in the works but it has been put in mothballs, the last I heard.

        I suppose private industry could supply the orbital transfer vehicle, but I have seen no proposal for one from the private sector, although they will most certainly need one to carry out the projects they have proposed.

    • gbaikie says:

      “NASA needs to use its resources to enhance this movement by providing basic transportation.

      The NASA infrastructure is slowly coming together, although we still do not have an official orbital transfer vehicle in development.”

      NASA is not a provider of basic transportation. For NASA to get crew to ISS, it buys manned rockets from Russia. NASA is currently providing funding for future US capability to get crew to LEO -ISS- [and beyond].
      NASA has and continues to send unmanned vehicles beyond high Earth orbit {Mercury, Mars, Pluto flyby, etc] and has obtained this transportation from the US private sector [and other countries’] launch companies.
      NASA is currently developing an in-house rocket launch vehicle, called, SLS {Space Launch System- or as commonly called, Senate Launch System [who have insisted to fund the project]. The SLS has very expensive to fund and is still years before it’s first launch [which was first planned to launch on or before 2017]. SpaceX will launch it’s heavy launch vehicle [and without any tax payer money used for it’s development].
      “When Falcon Heavy lifts off in 2017, it will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two. With the ability to lift into orbit over 54 metric tons (119,000 lb)–a mass equivalent to a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel–Falcon Heavy can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, at one-third the cost.”
      http://www.spacex.com/falcon-heavy

      Now, the plan is that SLS will be a larger launch vehicle- and eventually planned to be even bigger than the Saturn V rocket which carried US crew to the Moon. But before the SLS launches up to 70 tons of payload to Low earth orbit [less capability as compared to Saturn V], it will have costs tens of billions of dollars and required more decade to developed AND have a high cost per lb of payload lifted into orbit. Or SpaceX is building it’s Heavy Falcon in order to lower it’s launch cost- have cheaper cost per lb than it’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle [which currently is, at least, one of the cheapest launch vehicle available in the world].

      Anyhow, I think it’s better if NASA focuses on space exploration, rather than trying to be a rocket manufacturer.
      NASA should explore the Moon with a robotic and crewed program of lunar exploration which is focused upon finding minable lunar water at the lunar poles. And complete such a program within a relatively quick time period- less than 10 years [or about to time period taken by the Apollo Program- and it can be cheaper than the Apollo program [and do a hell of a lot more than Apollo program in terms of exploration of the Moon- rather than, yeah we can also do some exploration since we happen to be are sending human crew to the moon.
      And after the 10 years of lunar exploration, NASA needs to focus it’s resources on Mars exploration.
      The purpose of lunar exploration is to determine whether commercial [profitable] water mining can occur on the Moon. The purpose of Mars exploration should to determine whether “commercial” settlements on Mars might be viable.
      And for settlements on Mars to be possible, one needs to know where one can get Mars water. Where billions of tones of water can be most easily extracted [lowest cost].

  9. Dr No says:

    Some people claim that god is simply targeting the white house in Washington, Trump Tower in New York and also the golf course at the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

    • David Appell says:

      Who could blame Her?

      • Lewis says:

        Really, you’re ascribing such behavior to God. It’s difficult to believe the sacrilege of some people, many of whom would squeal loudly if one disparaged a queer or a Muslim.

        • David Appell says:

          False — Dr No ascribed the behavior. I just gave my Approval.

          • Lewis says:

            And, I repeat myself, you squeal loudly when someone dares disparage your religious beliefs. You know the ones: AGW, Alternative Energy.

          • Dr No says:

            “…you squeal loudly when someone dares disparage your religious beliefs”.

            Lewis,
            No no no. In this case I am applauding god. If the asteroids do their job I will be the first worshipper into church next Sunday. Maybe I will see you there too?

          • Lewis says:

            Look in the choir loft. I’ll be sitting beside Martin.

          • Dr No says:

            It looks like she missed.
            I may give church a miss in that case.
            You should be thankful that I will not be joining you in the choir – my singing is terrible.

          • Lewis says:

            With our choir, probably wouldn’t be noticed.
            The commute could be problematic though.

  10. g*e*r*a*n says:

    The wife wanted me to mow the yard today. But then I saw this post.

    That’d be just my luck–a freshly mowed yard and then Earth gets wiped out!

    Why tempt fate?

  11. Brad says:

    If it changes trajectory and moves closer for it’s fly by, Man Made CO2 and Trump will be blamed.

  12. Julian Flood says:

    Space flight is available. See:

    https://www.reactionengines.co.uk/sabre/

    Anyone else remember ‘The Man Who Sold The Moon’?

    JF

  13. The video has two even dimmer objects visibly moving in a direction a little upwards of left to right. The faster one of them is just a little to the right of the brighter asteroid at 21 seconds, the slower one is a little more right of the brighter asteroid at 20 seconds, and the faster one passes under the slower one at 23 seconds. Both start in the left or lower left, and in the middle or upper middle of the screen. What are they? Other asteroids?

  14. AaronS says:

    As I understand it, the KT impact was special more than because its size. There are other factors like the angle of the impact, and the type of asteroid (stony vs iron nickle vs water) and its density, and the strata hit. The KT impact would not necesarily be recreated with an asteroid impact of the same size. So i believe it was several factors coming together. Its been a while since my time at Tennessee where we had impact experts giving talks. Im sure the science has progressed and i have not followed.

  15. Rick Adkison says:

    Deflector Shields! Full Intensity!

  16. Darwin Wyatt says:

    If only NASA hadn’t wasted so much time and money studying a trace trace gas… Thanks hoaxers.

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      Darwin…”If only NASA hadnt wasted so much time and money studying a trace trace gas…”

      Actually they shoved their climate division in a building far away from NASA central as a token gesture to someone in high places (Al Gore??).

      Someone up high is protecting NASA GISS. When the director of NASA wanted to fire James Hansen he was cut off at the pass.

      How did Hansen get to be head of GISS in the first place? He was an astronomer. How does an astronomer flip over to climate modeling as the head of a NASA division? And how does NASA, primarily an objective science outfit get into the crystal ball world of climate modelling rather than using real data from NOAA satellites?

      Roy comes from NASA and he specialized in AMSU units on satellites. Why would NASA not focus on that and turn to the nether world of climate modeling?

      • Nate says:

        Gordon,

        This has been pointed out to you before, Hansen was not an astronomer, he was a planetary scientist. An expert on planetary atmospheres like Venus’s.

        Why would NASA be interested in observing and trying to understand Earth, a planet, and observing from space, no less? You tell me.

  17. Mike Flynn says:

    Phew! That was close!

    Oh well, back to obsessing about being roasted, boiled, fried or toasted!

    Cheers.

    • Nate says:

      I wonder how Cornwall Alliancers (Roy?) would explain destructive asteroid impacts?

      They believe that:

      ‘Earth and its ecosystemscreated by Gods intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory.’

      • Gordon Robertson says:

        Nate…”They believe that: ”

        What in tarnation has this got to do with anything other than revealing your abject ignorance?

      • Nate says:

        Roy has signed this declaration. And much of what he says on this blog about the perils of fighting climate change comes from this declaration.

        The declaration also wants us believe that renewable energy sources are terrible and pointless, among many other assertions, that appear to be written by the fossil fuel lobby.

  18. Gordon Robertson says:

    “….there probably would not have been enough time to mount a mission to hit it with a nuclear-weapon tipped rocket”.

    Seriously doubt that one nuclear tipped warhead would do anything. At Nagasaki and Hiroshima, all they did was knock down a few wood frame buildings directly under the blast. Even a direct explosion at the surface would likely not do enough damage.

    I think what they have been considering is changing the orbit by nudging it laterally using some kind of rocket device. In space, it likely wouldn’t take much to push something that size out of its orbit but it would pose a serious problem landing on it laterally.

    We should be working on stuff like that rather than wasting our time and money on catastrophic climate change, which is obviously not happening.