Photo: Dima Zel (Shutterstock)
Today, even if you find it hard to focus on work after the long weekend that you hopefully enjoyed, a giant space rock screams through space at a “potentially dangerous” distance from Earth. The likelihood of a resulting Armageddon is (and always has been) extremely low, as the 2021 asteroid KTI is reported to fly within 4.5 million miles of Earth NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But on a galactic scale, such a distance is still pretty close, given the vast, spreading unknowns of the universe.
Even so, it is cold comfort to know that technically everything is fine, even with our space agency tracking a huge piece of rock hurtling at 40,000 miles per hour into “potentially dangerous” proximity to our fragile planet.
How big is the asteroid 2021 KTI?
On the large scale of asteroids – this is a terrible thing food for thought – it’s not that big technically, but that’s only when compared to other free-roaming space rocks that easily dwarf the tallest buildings on the planet.
For comparison: the asteroid known as 2021 CTI is roughly the size of the Eiffel Tower or Seattle’s Space Needle. That’s still pretty big, especially when you picture the Eiffel Tower hurtling towards Earth at 40,000 MPH. CTI will be followed by a few more asteroids, none of which are quite that large, but which are all likely to pass us harmlessly on or before Wednesday without penetrating into the atmosphere of our planet.
Even so, all of these asteroids are technically classified as Objects near the earth (NEOs), which NASA defines as:
An asteroid or comet whose orbit places it in or through a zone between approximately 91 million and 121 million miles (195 million kilometers) from the Sun, meaning that it is within approximately 30 million miles (50 million kilometers) of Earth orbit can fly by.
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How often do asteroids actually have contact with Earth?
Asteroids vary considerably in size and thus also in the severity of their impact on Earth. According to NASA, smaller asteroids, “several meters in size, are discovered several times a month between the earth and the orbit of the moon,” while even smaller meteoroids (less than a meter) come into daily contact with solid ground. These aren’t the space rocks to worry about; there are larger, more worrying asteroids catapulting through the cosmos. On the plus side, none (that we know of) will pose a risk to humanity for at least 100 years, the space agency claims.
Or, as the space agency says:
The highest risk of impact for a known asteroid is a 1 in 714 chance of impacting an asteroid named 2009 FD in 2185, which means that the probability that it could hit is less than 0.2 percent.
It is a very good thing that asteroids do not hit Earth with human regularity. For more than forty years it has been the prevailing wisdom among paleontologists and researchers that the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid that struck the earth. The impact was enough to wipe out the predominant species on the planet, with the exception of the avian dinosaurs.
Needless to say, a massive asteroid impact would likely lead to some sort of global catastrophe, if not the end of human civilization as it currently exists – but as long as NASA isn’t worried, you shouldn’t worry either.