Alan Duffy was confused. On Thursday, the astronomer’s phone was suddenly flooded with calls from reporters wanting to know about a large asteroid that had just whizzed past Earth, and he couldn’t figure out “why everyone was so alarmed.”
“I thought everyone was getting worried about something we knew was coming,” Duffy, who is lead scientist at the Royal Institution of Australia, told The Washington Post. Forecasts had already predicted that a couple of asteroids would be passing relatively close to Earth this week.
Then, he looked up the details of the hunk of space rock named Asteroid 2019 OK.
“I was stunned,” he said. “This was a true shock.”
This asteroid wasn’t one that scientists had been tracking, and it had seemingly appeared from “out of nowhere,” Michael Brown, a Melbourne-based observational astronomer, told The Washington Post. According to data from NASA, the craggy rock was large, an estimated 57 to 130 meters wide (187 to 427 feet), and moving fast along a path that brought it within about 73,000 kilometers (45,000 miles) of Earth. That’s less than one-fifth of the distance to the moon and what Duffy considers “uncomfortably close.” [Continue reading…]
Had this asteroid hit Earth, moving at nearly 54,000 mph, the force of impact would have been equivalent to roughly 10 megatons of TNT — about the same explosive power of the first tested thermonuclear device which itself was more than 450 times as powerful as the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki.