Asteroids are an unlikely but present danger and both NASA and ESA, the European Space Agency, are constantly monitoring the heavens as best as their budgets permit to look for these space hazards. The Center for Near Earth Object Studies is constantly updating its database and is currently monitoring five upcoming asteroids that will pass very close to Earth in the coming year.
None of the objects appear to be dangerous, with only one getting closer than the Moon to Earth. Still, two of these objects were only discovered in the last few months, which is a stark reminder of how vigilant we need to remain.
The first close passage will happen in July, where an object known as 2017 BS5 will fly at about 1.1 million kilometers (700,000 miles) from Earth, just over three times the Earth-Moon distance. This is the biggest asteroid that will whiz by us and is estimated to be 40 to 90 meters (130 to 295 feet) across.
The closest one will be in October, passing as close as 11,500 kilometers (7200 miles), which is less than one-third of the distance to geostationary orbit. This rock, known as 2012 TC4, is between 12 and 27 meters (39 and 88 feet) across and astronomers are keeping a close eye on it.
The next three objects will pass at over 1.3 million kilometers (820,000 miles) from Earth, coming to their closest approach on December 3, February 24, and April 2. They are all quite small objects as well, each less than 40 meters (130 feet).
The February asteroid known as 2017 DR109 was only discovered last February. If this object was on a collision course it would leave very little time to organize a response. Although cuts to NASA’s budget means that the Asteroid Redirect Mission has been shelved, the space agency is working hard preparing for a potential impact.
Last year, NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency ran exercises to simulate what they would do in case of an asteroid impact. They are now planning to conduct tests with local representatives to understand how best to mitigate damages and the potential loss of life.
These preparation are good and events like Asteroid Day are great to raise awareness about this global threat, but scientists have also highlighted how awfully unprepared we are for large-scale events. At a conference last year, researchers discussed state-of-the-art technology for asteroid redirection and destruction but highlighted that currently, we wouldn't be able to use any of those.
So far we have been lucky, but it wouldn’t take much to end up like the dinosaurs.