Some Of The Riskiest Asteroids Around Are Headed Toward Earth

First off, we’re almost certainly going to be fine. That said, the next few months are shaping up to be pretty interesting for folks that keep an eye on the many asteroids and other near-Earth objects (NEOs) whipping around our corner of space over our heads.

The European Space Agency maintains a “risk list” of NEOs it describes as “a catalog of all objects for which a non-zero impact probability has been computed.” Over the next year, nine of the more than 1,400 objects on this list are set to make close passes by our planet, including the one ranked as the highest overall risk and one ranked fourth riskiest overall.

That’s a lot of statistical drama, right there, even if the odds of any actual impact are less than .005 percent (or 1 in 50,000).

One Big Space Rock

Right now the top spot on the risk list is occupied by asteroid 2001VB, a potentially hazardous asteroid roughly the size of the Golden Gate Bridge. That’s quite big for an NEO, which is the main reason it’s currently considered the most risky one being tracked, despite the fact that its odds of actually impacting earth are beyond miniscule, at around one in 300 million.

But if we do score the world’s unluckiest lottery ticket and 2001VB somehow manages a direct strike on Earth when it makes its close pass on July 23 of this year, it could do some serious damage. It’s about 10-20 times bigger than the bolide that exploded over Russia in 2013, creating a shock wave that blew out thousands of windows in the town of Chelyabinsk.

Again, this isn’t likely and the object is being tracked, so there’s no need to lose sleep.

It does present an opportunity for scientists to get a good look at an NEO of significant size making such a close pass, though.

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Others To Watch

Then there is the number four riskiest NEO at the moment, an asteroid cataloged as 2005ED224. This object is more on par with the Chelyabinsk bolide in terms of its size, but it has a slightly better chance of impact at around one in 500,000. Still, quite negligible odds of impact, and if it did hit it would have to be doubly unlucky in striking near a population center to do much damage after largely burning up in the atmosphere.

Bottom line: Odds are it won’t hit us and even if it did, it would probably fall in the ocean or wilderness somewhere. But it’s still not impossible it will make news on the day it’s due for a close pass on March 11.

As of now, there’s seven other NEOs on the list set to make a close approach by Earth in the next 12 months. All of them are smaller than the Chelyabinsk bolide and would likely burn up completely or almost completely during their trips through the atmosphere if they did impact.

The smallest one on the list, at about two meters across, has the most significant chance of impact at one in 55,000.

If you’re keeping track, the next upcoming close pass from this list is asteroid 2008 EL68 on Feb. 26. It’s about ten meters across with a roughly one in ten million chance of impact.

One last thing to keep in mind. The ESA risk list and the observations and data that populate it are constantly in flux. New NEOs are discovered, rocket to the top of the risk rankings and then fall off as more observations provide a better picture of their orbital paths.

Each object on the list also gets a Torino Scale ranking. This is a ranking used to assess the overall risk and help scientists and communicators decide how serious a threat is to help inform communications with the public.

The reason you’ve probably never heard of any of the objects on this list is that they currently all have a Torino Scale ranking of zero. That’s another way of saying: “absolutely nothing to worry about here.”

If any object begins to move dramatically up the Torino Scale, you can be sure you’ll hear about it.

Sleep well, but eyes on the sky.

#Riskiest #Asteroids #Headed #Earth

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