Millions of years of biological evolution and thousands of years of cultural and technological evolution later, the last thing humanity would want is to turn into fossils the dinosaur way. Yet, the possibilities of being wiped out of existence forever by a space rock seems much higher than we usually perceive. Want some perspective on that? Well, a new study conducted by a group of researchers at NASA might help.
According to the study, there are more than 15,000 asteroids and comets in our cosmic neighborhood that could potentially collide with Earth. In fact, the researchers found that the threats to our planet from asteroids and comets passing by or hurtling toward it have increased notably in the recent years.
Apparently, the researchers have found credible evidence that the number of near-Earth objects (NEO) has been increasing rapidly over the past few years with as many as 30 new discoveries being made each week. A near-Earth object can be defined as a celestial body such as an asteroid or a comet whose orbit periodically brings it within 1.3 times (or less) the Earth’s average distance from the Sun.
The 15,000th NEO, an asteroid named 2016 TB57 was discovered only a few weeks back on Oct 13 by a group of astronomers at the Mount Lemmon Survey. The same astronomers flew past the Earth last Monday.
Needless to say, the growing number of asteroids have also led to heightened concerns that some of these asteroids could pose an existential threat to humans and many other species on Earth. To help counter such risks, a number of special asteroid detection programs are currently actively scanning the sky to find and track NEOs.
The silver lining is that more than 90% of the larger NEOs have already been detected by such programs, making it at least theoretically possible to take appropriate actions just in case one or more of them were ever to embark on a collision course with the Earth.
“While no known NEO currently poses a risk of impact with Earth over the next 100 years,” says NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson, “we’ve found mostly the larger asteroids, and we have a lot more of the smaller but still potentially hazardous ones to find.”
[Source: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Catalog of known near-Earth asteroids tops 15,000.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 October 2016.]