Near Earth Asteroids: No Cause For Alarm … Yet

paths of two asteroids passing near the Earth
The asteroids’ trajectory brings them within the moon’s orbit of Earth.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

Two asteroids are passing within the moon’s distance from Earth today.

The Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona discovered both objects on Sunday, September 5. The Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts reviewed the observations and determined the preliminary orbits. The center’s personnel concluded both objects would pass within the distance of the moon to Earth, approximately 240,000 miles. The asteroids should be visible with moderate-sized amateur telescopes.

Neither asteroid will hit Earth. Asteroid 2010 RX30 is estimated to be approximately 32 to 65 feet in size and will pass within approximately 154,000 miles of Earth at 5:51 a.m. EDT Wednesday. The second object, 2010 RF12, estimated to be 20 to 46 feet in size, will pass within approximately 49,000 miles at 5:12 p.m. EDT.

Although making headlines around the world, the occurrence is not at all uncommon. Asteroids in the 10-meter range pass Earth within the orbit of the moon almost every day, with atmospheric impacts occurring about every 10 years.

Most of these visitors come from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, a region filled with millions of rocks, the majority of them only a few meters across. However, the belt does contain some — perhaps 750,000 — with a diameter of 1 kilometer or more.

According to some theories, it was a collision with one of these larger asteroids that caused widespread environmental changes, leading to the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Given the ever-present danger, some proactive measures seem wise. Consequently, efforts are underway to form an international organization dedicated to watching for dangerous asteroids and comets and devising ways to deflect these behemoths.

Various suggestions have been proposed, but all are incredibly costly and none are certain to succeed. Nevertheless, if Hollywood movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact are even remotely accurate, it’s worth the effort.