There’s a Near-Earth Object (NEO) on a near-collision course with Earth and scientists are saying that, although it will pass within 11,000 miles of the planet, there’s no chance that it will actually become an impactor. Designated 2013 TX68, the asteroid is set to do a close fly-by on March 5. But what if NASA is wrong in its calculations and our world becomes a target for asteroid 2013 TX68?
Universe Today reported February 5 that NASA’s Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory believes that asteroid 2013 TX68 will pass closest to Earth on March 5. There is some uncertainty in this, though, in that the large space rock (roughly 30 meters, or 100 feet, in diameter) has a trajectory that has been difficult to calculate. Still, NASA maintains that there is “no possibility” the asteroid will impact the planet on its March fly-by.
But what kind of damage would the relatively small NEO do if it did happen to collide with Earth? Not much, say scientists. To allay fears, they compare 2013 TX68 to the Chelyabinsk meteor that detonated in the skies over Russia in 2013. That asteroid was approximately 20 meters (roughly sixty feet) in diameter and caused most of its damage through the explosion in the upper atmosphere as it disintegrated. The sonic boom caused extensive property damage (mostly through broken windows in buildings) and some 1,500 people were injured, many due to the ensuing panic generated by the sudden appearance and detonation.
According to NASA, even though 2013 TX68 is slightly larger than the Chelyabinsk meteor, the fact that having advance notice of its arrival would decrease the number injuries to humans. However, it likely would detonate with a force twice that of the Chelyabinsk incident. (How advance notice of such an incident would ameliorate the amount of property damage — if the asteroid were to break up, say, over a metropolitan area — incurred by the sonic blast is not explained.) It, too, would be expected to break apart in the atmosphere. (Of course, if it remained intact and impacted the Earth with even the same amount of force as the Chelyabinsk meteor — estimated to have exploded with a force of 500 kilotons (to compare: the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, was 20 kilotons) — the damage done would be, if it occurred in highly populated area, cataclysmic.)
The asteroid passed by Earth at 1.3 million miles (2 million kilometers) on its last go-round back in 2014. It is predicted to pass by again in 2017 and again in 2046 and 2097. Its erratic orbit has thus far given NASA problems with calculating exactly where it will be but the space agency assures that an impact in 2017 is 1-in-250 million, with the later fly-bys providing even lower odds of impact.
NEOs fly past the Earth all the time and NASA monitors them through the Near Earth Object Program. As Universe Today notes, there will be at least 80 more near Earth passes before the calendar year is over. That is the number without any Chelyabinsk-like surprises, of course.