International Asteroid Day: Asteroids celebrated good fortune by flying near Earth

International Asteroid Day: Asteroids celebrated good fortune by flying near Earth

Two asteroids, one of which was discovered in early June, flew past Earth this week, a rare event marking International Asteroid Day, according to space agencies around the world.

He said that there is no threat to the planet from any of these asteroids.

Explaining footage taken by the Virtual Telescope Project, astronomer Gianluca Masi said asteroid 2024 MK, about 200 metres in diameter, was at a distance of about 300,000 kilometres when it was closest to Earth – 77% of the distance from the planet to the Moon.

Masi, the founder and director of the crowd-funded service provided by Italy's Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory, was the commentator of the live-streamed YouTube feed at around 2:30 pm IST on June 30. According to the commentator, the asteroid was closest to Earth about 10 hours before the feed went live.

Masi can be heard saying, “It is a massive asteroid that is coming very close to Earth this time, but fortunately there is no threat to our planet.”

“But being so close and so large, this object was very bright at the time of this close approach, so if you are in the right part of the world, such as the southwestern US, you should be able to see it with a simple telescope, my friends,” Masi said, calling the asteroid's passage an “extraordinary” event.

Furthermore, moving at an average speed of nine metres per second, Masi said the celestial body was “strange” as it was moving at a “fairly fast” speed, unlike the stars.

The flight has been perfectly timed to coincide with International Asteroid Day on June 30. The day, which is also backed by the United Nations, marks the anniversary of the biggest asteroid strike in recorded history in 1908, when an airburst over Tunguska in Siberia destroyed more than 80 million trees.

Remnants of the solar system's formation, asteroids are often called 'minor planets.' There are thought to be about a billion of these irregularly shaped rocky bodies orbiting the sun.

Asteroid 2024 MK, discovered on June 16, 2024, highlights the need to continue improving our ability to detect potentially hazardous objects in our cosmic neighbourhood, ESA said in a statement.

The second asteroid, named (415029) 2011 UL21, is the larger of the two asteroids approaching Earth this week. At 2.3 kilometers in diameter, it is larger than 99% of known near-Earth objects (NEOs), according to the ESA.

According to the Virtual Telescope Project, an asteroid of this size comes closest to us every 10 years on average.

On June 27, the closest asteroid to Earth was 2011 UL21 at a distance of about 6.6 million kilometers, more than 177 times the lunar distance — a “really safe encounter,” according to Masi, the YouTube livestream's commentator.

Masi said the asteroid is among the top 10 largest asteroids to come within 7.5 million kilometers of Earth since 1900.

ESA said there are an estimated 5 million NEOs that are larger than 20 metres – the limit above which a collision could cause damage on the Ground.

As part of its planetary defence projects, ESA is expected to launch the Hera mission in October 2024, the statement said.

Hera is tasked with conducting a detailed post-impact survey of the asteroid Dimorphos, which was targeted by NASA's Planetary Defense mission on September 26, 2022.

The US space agency's mission called 'Double Asteroid Redirection Test' (DART) was the first such mission in which an asteroid was hit in such a way that it was forced to change its motion in space.

According to NASA's website, DART collided with the moon Dimorphos, about 160 metres in diameter, which was orbiting a larger asteroid called Didymos, about 780 metres in diameter.

Chrisfin Karthik, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bengaluru, and one of the architects of the DART mission, had told PTI then that this is definitely a step towards preparing the world for a possible event in the future, like the one that is believed to have led to the extinction of dinosaurs around 66 million years ago.

Karthik had said, “We are surrounded by many asteroids and comets that orbit our Sun. Very few of them are potentially dangerous for the Earth. Hence, it is better to prepare our defences to avoid such asteroids for collision with the Earth in future.”

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