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NASA’s Near Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program has discovered and cataloged over 15,000 Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) since they began scouring the skies in 1998. However, every now and again, one manages to escape their powerful telescopes and keen eyes. This was certainly the case with asteroid 2017 BS32, which was discovered on January 30 just three days before its close encounter with Earth.
The asteroid, which was moving at 9.9 miles per second, came within 101,214 miles of our planet at about 3:23 PM (EST) on February 2. NASA researchers say though the flyby was a surprise, the space rock, estimated to be just 39 feet in diameter, would not have caused any damage even if it had hit Earth.
What worries experts, however, is that 2017 BS32 is the latest in a series of previously unknown asteroids that have snuck up on us unexpectedly since the beginning of the year. On January 29, asteroid 2017 BH30 came within 32,200 miles of Earth. Measuring 19 feet wide, it was discovered just hours before the close encounter.
The largest surprise asteroid this year was 2017 AG13, which came within about half the distance between the moon and Earth. According to “Impact Earth,” an asteroid impact simulator at Purdue University, if the estimated 111-foot long space rock had hit Earth’s atmosphere, it would have exploded and released almost 700 kilotons worth of energy. While powerful, it would not result in much damage since the impact would occur 10 miles above the Earth’s surface. NASA researchers say that the asteroid was roughly the same size as the one that landed in Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013, which resulted in shattered windows and minor damage to a few buildings.
Paul Cox, the chief astronomical officer at Slooh Observatories, says, “It raises a few eyebrows when we see a number of close approaching NEAs (Near Earth Asteroids) over such a short period of time.” Slooh’s astronomers plan to investigate the reason for this recent barrage of space rocks, research if we have encountered anything similar in the past, and try to find the reason the asteroids were not noticed sooner.
Resources: inverse.com, businessinsider.com,space.com