Asteroid flying safely past Earth may be larger than Chelyabinsk meteor

Even small asteroids can cause significant damage upon impact.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Feb 12, 2018
An asteroid flying safely past the Earth on Friday, February 9, may be larger than the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013.

Estimated to have a diameter somewhere between 50 and 130 feet (15 and 40 meters), the asteroid, designated 2018 CB, was discovered just five days earlier on February 4 by NASA's Catalina Sky Survey.

The Chelyabinsk meteor, which had a diameter of about 51 feet (17 meters), exploded before hitting the ground, blowing out windows and injuring city residents. It was not detected prior to impact.

2018 CB will pass within 20 percent of the Earth-Moon distance, or 39,000 miles (64,000 km) of Earth. It comes just days after another newly-discovered asteroid, 2018 CC, which has a diameter ranging from 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 meters), flew by on February 4.

That asteroid came within 114,000 miles (184,000 km) of our planet.

"Asteroids of this size do not often approach this close to our planet--maybe only once or twice a year," reported Paul Chodas, who manages the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

These asteroids' approaches are reminders of how important it is to find objects that do come this close, he noted.

While NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office tracks near-Earth asteroids and comets using several telescopes in order to detect potential threats in advance, small asteroids such as 2018 CB flying close to Earth are sometimes missed.

Another asteroid, 2002 AJ129, known to scientists since 2002, flew within 2.6 million miles (4.2 million km) of Earth, or ten times the Earth-Moon distance, also on February 4. It has a diameter ranging from 0.3 to 0.75 miles (0.5 to 1.2 km).

All objects the Planetary Defense Coordination Office discovers that could be potential threats are cataloged in its publicly available Small-Body Database Browser.

Scientists emphasize there are no imminent threats to Earth at this time.

NASA seeks to find and catalog 90 percent of all asteroids and comets with diameters of 460 feet (140 meters) or larger that will fly within 20 times the Earth-Moon distance or 4.65 million miles (7.48 million km) of our planet.

Several active missions focus on asteroids. The space agency's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) infrared telescope has detected numerous near-Earth objects (NEOs). Because its orbit is taking it into an area too sunny for observations, NEOWISE's mission will end this year.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx and Japan's Hayabusa missions will both collect and return asteroid samples for analysis. New projects Lucy and Psyche will conduct flybys of eight asteroids, including Jupiter Trojans, in the next two decades.

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