An asteroid is set to pass the surface of Earth next week at an estimated distance of 30,000 miles, one-eighth of the distance between our planet and the moon.
According to NASA, Asteroid TC4 will pass North America on Oct. 12, with the space agency preparing to test its planetary defense systems on the celestial body that will come extremely close to Earth.
Astronomers have been tracking the asteroid ever since July and believe the space rock, which is estimated to be somewhere between 30 and 100 feet long, will make its closest pass at 10:42 p.m. PST at a distance of 27,211 miles.
NASA will conduct a drill when the asteroid passes to see how well its planetary defense system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth. While these drills have been done in the past with pretend asteroids, this one will feature the real space rock, one they are confident will miss the Earth as it zooms by.
“The question is: How prepared are we for the next cosmic threat?” NASA Consultant Vishnu Reddy said this past July. “So we wanted to test how ready we are for a potential impact by a hazardous asteroid.”
While there is nothing to worry about when it comes to the house-sized asteroid passing the Earth next week, scientists have suggested that these wandering bodies were once responsible for wiping out dinosaurs, sparking the thought of humanity’s extinction by the hands of celestial bodies.
According to the journal of Geophysical Research, scientists have now outlined exactly how asteroids could wipe out planet Earth. British researchers from the University of Southampton found numerous risks posed by an asteroid collision, outlining the impact effects and their immediate hazards to the human population.
Researchers found asteroids had the potential to cause more death and destruction if smashed into the ground or exploded in the sky above a land mass. Known as an “air burst,” the asteroid would also bring a grave outcome had it crashed into the sea, causing a tsunami.
“The analysis of average casualty numbers per impactor [asteroid] shows that there is a significant difference in expected loss for airburst and surface impacts and that the average impact over land is an order of magnitude more dangerous than one over water,” the team wrote.
They also added that larger asteroids pose more of a risk than smaller ones.
The study adds that if an asteroid were to smash into our planet, it would create a massive fireball. The effect of this happening would also devastate populations out in the open when impact hits.
In the possibility that it hits a city or explodes over it, buildings would most likely set ablaze, with larger asteroids causing mile-wide fireballs after impact. Mankind could avoid fireballs and thermal radiation if they are sheltered in basements, but those in big cities would need to be evacuated in risk of asteroid impact.
We’ve seen it happen in plenty of movies and know that when an object hits a planet, it creates massive craters. But scientists note that between the process of cratering, the asteroid can also eject a huge amount of rocks and debris in the air.
These fragments become red hot, meaning they can start fires even after a fireball has died down. If an asteroid is large enough, it could also send material flying into the atmosphere that would block out the sun, causing plants to die and the Earth to slowly starve.
The winds generated when an asteroid were to hypothetically smash into Earth or blow up in an airburst could create the “most critical impact effect.” The study notes that any gusts caused by the asteroid impact would likely be so severe they “dislocate bodies and objects to cause harm.”
The researchers found an asteroid would need to be an estimated 60 feet wide to cause losses in such manner.
Noted as the scientific term for the shockwave caused when an asteroid explodes in air or crashes into the ground or sea, overpressure has been seen once before in our time, causing great damage to its population. When a meteor exploded in the sky above the Russian town of Chelyabinsk in 2013, most of the damage and injuries during that event were caused by aerodynamic shock, knocking people to the ground, damaging structures and windows; causing indirect injuries.
Scientists note in the new study that overpressure can get so bad, it can also “rupture internal organs.” If the asteroid was also large enough, the overpressure would effectively “pulp” the insides of victims.