On Feb. 15, an asteroid relative to the size of the Hindenburg Zeppelin penetrated Earth’s geosynchronous ring, but barely scraped the surface of the atmosphere, which raises the question of whether people should be worried about future collisions.
According to NASA, the asteroid, labeled DA14, is the largest predicted object to come close to Earth, flying 17,200 miles over the eastern Indian Ocean. Though relatively near, there was never any fear of collision.
At one hundred fifty feet in diameter, asteroid DA14 was also nearly impossible to see with the naked eye.
In response to the idea of asteroid collisions, Visiting Professor of Physics Nathalie Haurberg ‘06 said that “it happens, and it could happen,” but a major impact from an asteroid in the near future is highly unlikely. Statistically, flybys from asteroids such as DA14 happen every 40 years, and collisions with asteroids of similar size happen every 100 million years.
More common are smaller meteors that hit Earth almost every decade.
On the same day asteroid DA14 passed by, a meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia. Though three times smaller than asteroid DA14, the meteor injured over 1,200 people. According to Reuters, the meteor could have been seen from as far as 125 miles away in a separate town, but its close proximity to Earth made it impossible to predict with radar.
In 1908, a similar situation happened in Tunguska, Siberia when a meteor exploded with a force greater than the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima during World War II. The impact, now referred to as the Tunguska event, initiated plans for asteroid deflection programs.
“It’s not a constant fear, but when someone mentions asteroids, I do cringe a little,” freshman Michelle Secunda said.
NASA currently runs an asteroid-tracking program, used to monitor the movement of asteroids such as DA14, but in the event of a collision, no one has any plans on what to do. Smaller asteroids, such as the one that hit Chelyabinsk, are harder to track due to the fact that they are too close to show up on the radar. In response to the impact in Chelyabinsk, Russia’s Aerospace Defense Forces plan on shooting meteors down to size before they can cause any significant damage.
Freshman Carly Taylor, a student in Haurberg’s Search for Extraterrestrial Life class, argued that, while powerful, asteroids are still nothing to worry about.
“The impacts the size of the one that happened in Russia happen roughly every decade. It’s ridiculously uncommon,” Taylor said. “The really big ones we went through billions of years ago, when we were getting hit all the time, have completely slowed down. Because humans have been around for such a short period of time compared to the amount of time geological history has gone on, proportionally, it’s almost impossible that it’s going to happen to us.”
On the subject of detrimental collisions, freshman Michael Gerten said, “It’ll happen eventually,” but also said that it is highly unlikely that it will happen in the foreseeable future.
Senior Jonathan Bass said that he is not “significantly worried about it.”
Freshman Emma Steiner said, “I don’t count it among my list of worries”.