Another Asteroid Made a Close Pass With Earth for the 17th Time This Year
Not to freak you out or anything, but Earth appears to quite literally be going through a bit of a rough patch at the moment. That's at least one way you might describe the fact that a whopping 17 large asteroids have been spotted passing relatively close by our planet in 2018 alone. In fact, the most recent cosmic, craggy interloper was spotted just this past weekend.
If that seems like a lot of celestial rocks to be whirring by overhead by in such a short period of time, that's because it is.
The latest space rock to pass by, known as Asteroid 2018 DU, is the 17th known asteroid to have come within one Lunar distance (e.g., closer to us than the moon) this year. It was spotted just this past Friday by a telescope in Arizona operated as part of the Virtual Telescope Project, which detected it to be over 30 feet wide and moving at a speed of 2.8 miles per second. It missed Earth by a little less than 175,000 miles. Asteroid 2018 DQ, which passed by on February 21, missed Earth by just 60,000 miles. On February 9, another one dubbed Asteroid 2018 CC -- roughly 120 feet wide -- passed by at just 39,000 miles overhead.
So what's going on? Should we be worried?
The simple answer is: probably not. Millions of asteroids orbit the sun between Mars and Jupiter, and Earth experiences quite a few close encounters throughout the year. However, another explanation for the seemingly high frequency in the past two months may be technological advancements that allow astronomers to catch wind of smaller asteroids better than ever before. Astronomer Gianluca Masi recently explained as much to Newsweek: “Over the years, we have improved our capabilities to find these smaller asteroids. This is why we apparently have such a higher frequency of close encounters."
Still, it's worth acknowledging that even close calls can occasionally be dangerous. For instance, when a 55-foot-wide meteor that entered Earth's atmosphere over Russia in 2013, it was traveling so fast and at such a shallow angle that it caused an enormous explosion that damaged over 7,000 buildings and indirectly injured more than 1,500 people.
Unfortunately, very few of these near-Earth objects will be visible to the naked eye. However, if you are interested in catching a celestial light show of another sort, there are quite a few upcoming meteor showers worth pencilling into your schedule.