The US space agency has admitted it is discovering about 30 new “near earth objects” a week, and keeping a close watch on them as they cosmically brush past us.
Seven of the Halloween asteroids were discovered only this year, meaning we have been oblivious to them hurtling past us over thousands of years. Three of the space rocks are monsters of between 660 metres and 900 metres in length, big enough to wipe out life in much of a continent if they made a direct hit.
Three others, from 230 to 410 metres long, would be likely to be disastrous to a whole country should they strike, with the remaining five, from just 18 metres to 110 metres, big enough to destroy or seriously affect a city the size of London. The closes pass on Monday will be the newly discovered asteroid 2016 UR36, which NASA estimates is between eight and 18 metres long. It is due to pass just beyond the moon at 310,000 miles. But cosmically speaking, this within a whisker.
NASA classes any object passing within a distance of 30 million miles of Earth as a “near earth object”, because orbits are estimated and it is not always certain about the path they will take. The largest, which is coming in relatively close is 2003 YT1, which is 1.7km long, big enough to threaten all life on Earth. It passes at 3.2million miles, just 13.5 times the distance from Earth to our moon. NASA announced yesterday its database of near-Earth asteroids now tops 15,000. The latest discovery was 2016 TB57, discovered on October 13 by observers at the Mount Lemmon Survey, an element of the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Arizona. At up to 36 metres long, it is one of the 11 Halloween asteroids, and will pass us at 1.2million miles, about five times the distance to the moon. A NASA spokesman said: “It will safely pass Earth.