We’ve all seen the movies where a sinister, silent and deadly piece of space rock hurtles undiscovered toward the Earth. Usually these movies culminate in some sort of daredevil mission to either destroy it or deflect it from its Earthbound trajectory. In reality, there’s actually not an awful lot we can do about a potential asteroid strike, other than sit tight and hope. Just a couple of days ago a newly discovered asteroid given the catchy title XE54 rattled by Earth just 225,000 kilometres, that puts it within the orbit of the Moon! We can now relax or can we? Hot on its heels though is the much larger 4179 Toutatis which is nearly 5 kilometres wide!
It was an asteroid 10 kilometres wide which is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs so Toutatis is smaller but if it hit, it would still pack quite a punch. The good news is that it passed us harmlessly earlier today and it its closest was still 7 million kilometres away. The real worry though is not the ones we know about such as Toutatis which never really worried astronomers but instead, the likes of smaller and previously unknonw XE54 which was only discovered just two daysbefore closest approach. That would have given no time to do anything about it. Even Bruce Willis would have still been getting his space suit on!
Is there anything we can do should a piece of rock be found “with Earth’s name on it”? The key is finding them early enough to give options but at the moment there are only a few automated search projects hunting and a handful of dedicatedamateur astronomers.