The area beyond the Earth’s atmosphere isn’t always the safest place. Outer space is dark, cold, and contains a major amount of movement of extraterrestrial objects left over from the formation of our solar system. They range in size from the length of a dust particle to the width that’s 600 miles or more across. If any of the largest versions of these objects were to crash into the Earth, it would likely cause a major disruptive event for the planet.
What are the chances that such an event will happen? Luckily not much, though we may come close this September. Scientists from the European Space Agency have recently identified a real-life asteroid which has a 1 in 7,000 chance of descending on our planet. Those odds aren’t a lot, but they have gotten the world’s attention.
About the asteroid
The asteroid, named 2006 QV89, measures 130 feet in diameter and is about the size of the Arc de Triomphe. On around September 9th, it is expected to reach 4.2 million miles from the planet, which is as close as it will get. To give this distance some perspective, it is worth noting that the moon is a hair under 239,000 miles from Earth.
While a collision with the Earth is possible, even at this distance, the odds of contact are statistically pretty small. Experts agree. As of June 24th, they placed this asteroid at number five on the list of objects with a risk of striking our planet and notated the lack of a hazard likelihood for the possible event.
What happens when an asteroid does collide with Earth?
Box office blockbusters, novelists, and other storytellers have described in vivid detail what a real-life major asteroid strike might be like. While they could be correct, it is hard to know since a strike of that magnitude hasn’t happened in modern times. Perhaps the closest event to this type happened 66 million years ago and was likely responsible for the decline of dinosaurs. The asteroid which may have landed during that time was six miles long. That’s a lot bigger than 2006 QV89.
Some evidence of what a large-scale asteroid strike might be like can be taken from a recent meteor that landed just over the Bering Sea between Russia and Alaska. Experts say that it released the energy of 724,000 average lightning strikes and ten times the energy of the bomb that was deployed over Hiroshima. In 2013, an even larger meteor exploded in the region of Chelyabinsk. It injured between 900 and 1200 people, mostly from broken glass. Buildings and property were also damaged and video footage of the event was shared around the world on social media.
The largest meteor strike in recent history took place in Siberia in 1908. Called the Tunguska Event, it destroyed more than 80 million trees over an area approximating 2,000 miles. Thousands of people observed the effects of the event describing a fireball in the sky, a shaking of the ground, and explosive sounds.
Most objects don’t make it
Luckily, our planet isn’t as vulnerable to asteroid strikes as it may seem because our atmosphere serves as a protection from most impacts. As objects enter our atmosphere they burn up and break apart. If they survive our atmosphere at all, they’re smaller and less dangerous. That’s good news for humans.
However, scientists are constantly vigilant in their efforts to detect any potential collisions as early as possible. If an asteroid ever does threaten the Earth, experts want to know about it soon and make plans to do something about it, keeping our planet safe for future generations.