Asteroid 2014 RC, a massive space rock the size of a very big bus or an elongated semi truck, is scheduled to do a very close near-miss fly-by this weekend. The scary part is: It has only been scheduled since Aug. 31, when the asteroid was discovered. But a few quick mathematical calculations assured astronomers and other scientists that it posed no threa to the Earth but would pass within the shell of geosynchronous satellites positioned around the Earth, getting as close as roughly 22,000 miles above the surface. But that is only the case if the calculations are accurate. What if, as The Inquistr asked Sept. 5, the asteroid didn’t follow the projected path of a near-miss and actually collided with the Earth?
Making the near-miss comparison with the 2013 fly-by of the slightly more massive 2012 DA14, an asteroid about 100 feet in diameter that soared past the Earth at 17,200 miles distance, The Inquistr noted that that particular asteroid was noticed a bit late in its travels (it was discovered in February 2012 and made its fly-by 50 weeks later in February 2013) for any real response to be made to counter it. But that time frame is far more expansive than that provided by astronomers finally catching sight of 2014 RC. Detection of that particular space missile provided only eight days to prepare for its close calling.
So what would happen if, say, asteroid 2014 RC actually impacted the Earth? The go-to comparison here, of course, is the Chelyabinsk meteor, which, coincidentally, entered the Earth’s atmosphere the very same day that all eyes and small telescopes were trained on 2012 DA14. In fact, nobody saw what would become a Russian fireball and meteorite at all. The first notice anyone, including professional and amateur astronomers, had of the incoming meteor was after it first lit up the skies and detonated in mid-air above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.
What scientists discovered was that, not only was the Chelyabinsk meteor a separate and unrelated piece of space rock from asteroid 2012 DA14, it had appeared out of one of the Earth’s “blind spots.” That is, there are parts of the sky where space telescopes and Earth-based telescopes are incapable of tracking, thus producing a “blind spot” for anything traveling towards the Earth from that particular direction in space.
A few quick calculations and the size of the Chelyabinsk meteor at somewhere between 60-70 feet in diameter. The detonation that caused so many injuries and so much damage was equal to the force of up to 30 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs.
As asteroid 2014 RC also measures at around 60 feet in diameter, the effects, if it would enter the Earth’s atmosphere, could very well be comparable to those created by 2012 DA14. However, composition and mass would also be determining factors, as would relative sppeed (Sunday’s guest is traveling, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Database, at around 10 miles per second, or at approximately 36,000 miles per hour), and whether or not most of the meteor remained intact by the time it impacted the Earth.
Of course, neither the Chelyabinsk meteor or asteroid 2014 RC are extinction event causers, like the meteor that struck off the Yucatan Peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico that many scientists believe contributed heavily to the mass extinction of species some 66 million years ago and brought about the end of the age of dinosaurs. Still, their size and potential energy-dispersal are of such a level as to afford them the label of “killer” asteroids (more precisely: “city killers”). Simply put: A meteor detonating with the energy equivalent of 500 kilotons of TNT (20-30 times the energy output of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in World War II) would, if directly striking any city on the planet, would completely obliterate said city and a good portion of its metro area.
But asteroid 2014 RC will miss the Earth, slipping inside the geosychronous orbits of satellites (not harming any of them in its passage) and passing closest over New Zealand. Future passes by the Earth will also be misses, astronomers say.