A CLOSE call with an asteroid big enough to flatten a city was completely missed by Nasa due to a few rain clouds, leaked emails reveal.
The space rock 2019 OD was bigger than a football pitch and would have exploded with the power of 30 atomic bombs if it had smashed into Earth, according to scientists.
It passed within 40,000 miles of our planet – five times closer to us than the Moon – in a tight flyby back in June.
Alarmingly, scientists at Nasa were oblivious to its existence until it was too late, according to internal emails seen by Buzzfeed.
Spotted just a day before its narrow miss, Nasa could do nothing but watch as the asteroid – the largest to fly this close to Earth in 100 years – careened past our planet.
“Because there may be media coverage tomorrow, I’m alerting you that in about 30 mins a 57-130 meter sized asteroid will pass Earth at only 0.19 lunar distances (~48,000 miles),” wrote Lindley Johnson, Nasa’s planetary defence officer, in a July 24 email sent to other space agency experts.
2019 OD was the largest to fly this close to Earth in 100 years (stock)[/caption]
“2019 OK was spotted about 24 hrs ago.”
The asteroid, first detected by a small observatory in Brazil, shot past at 55,000 miles per hour – more than 30 times the speed of a bullet.
Had it hit Earth, the rock would have obliterated an area the size of London.
“If 2019 OK had entered and disrupted in Earth’s atmosphere over land, the blast wave could have created localised devastation to an area roughly 50 miles across,” Nasa wrote in a release weeks after the flyby.
An impact of this magnitude is estimated to occur once every 3,000 years on Earth.
According to the leaked messages, a combination of the position of the Moon and bad weather was to blame for Nasa’s calamitous miss.
“So, was this just a particularly sneaky asteroid?” Paul Chodas, manager of Nasa’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies, wrote in one of the emails.
“I wonder how many times this has happened without the asteroid being discovered at all.”
Nasa did not respond to a request for comment.
Asteroid 2019 OK has been near Earth before, but never so close.
Its last visit was February 1, 2017, though it sauntered past more than 25million miles from our planet’s surface, according to Nasa.
What's the difference between an asteroid, meteor and comet?
Here's what you need to know, according to Nasa…
- Asteroid: An asteroid is a small rocky body that orbits the Sun. Most are found in the asteroid belt (between Mars and Jupiter) but they can be found anywhere (including in a path that can impact Earth)
- Meteoroid: When two asteroids hit each other, the small chunks that break off are called meteoroids
- Meteor: If a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it begins to vapourise and then becomes a meteor. On Earth, it’ll look like a streak of light in the sky, because the rock is burning up
- Meteorite: If a meteoroid doesn’t vapourise completely and survives the trip through Earth’s atmosphere, it can land on the Earth. At that point, it becomes a meteorite
- Comet: Like asteroids, a comet orbits the Sun. However rather than being made mostly of rock, a comet contains lots of ice and gas, which can result in amazing tails forming behind them (thanks to the ice and dust vapourising)
Back in June, space experts from around the world expressed concern that 2019 OK hadn’t been spotted earlier.
One researcher claimed that if the asteroid had hit Earth, the impact would have been similar to the bang of a “very large nuclear weapon”.
Associate Professor Michael Brown of Monash University’s school of physics and astronomy said: “It’s impressively close. I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet. It’s a pretty big deal.”
Swinburne University astronomer Alan Duffy told the Sydney Morning Herald: “It would have hit with over 30 times the energy of the atomic blast at Hiroshima,” calling it a “city-killer asteroid”.
Asteroid 2019 OK has been near Earth before, but never so close. Its last visit was February 1, 2017, though it was over 25 million miles away from the surface of Earth, according to Nasa.
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In other space news, diamonds as old as the Moon are being blasted to Earth’s surface by a “hidden lava reservoir”.
A lost planet in Solar System was gobbled up by Jupiter.
And, here’s a full list of the asteroids that could crash into Earth.
What do you think of the asteroid scare? Let us know in the comments…
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