Asteroid 2005 YU55 yesterday passed within about 250,000 miles of the Earth, and while that might seem like a very large distance, it’s still a lot closer than the moon.
I did a quick, rough calculation on Asteroid 2005 YU55 and I reckon that it has a mass of between 60 million and 80 million tons, which is quite a sizeable rock by any standards, especially when you remember that it’s travelling at about 30,000 miles an hour. To put it another way, think of a New York city block, carved out of solid rock and flying at 50 times the speed of sound.
In short, think dinosaurs.
If this thing had been a millionth of a millionth of a degree different in its trajectory, we could now be looking at the annihilation of all life on Earth, except cockroaches, of course. And Berlusconi.
NASA released this video of the rock, generated from X-ray images as it hurtled through the void 850,000 miles from us.
Here comes 60 million tons of high-velocity impact and it’s going to miss us by a whisker. At least, thanks to Mr Newton and Mr Einstein, it was possible to predict that it wouldn’t actually strike the planet and wipe us all out, although it’s often hard to escape the conclusion that we deserve to be eradicated in some giant cosmic retribution. John Banville put similar thoughts in the mind of his MacArthur character in The Book Of Evidence.
Sometimes I think our presence here is due to a cosmic blunder, that we were meant for another planet altogether, with other arrangements, and other laws, and other, grimmer skies. I try to imagine it, our true place, off on the far side of the galaxy, whirling and whirling. And the ones who were meant for here, are they out there, baffled and homesick, like us? No, they would have become extinct long ago. How could they survive, these gentle earthlings, in a world that was made to contain us?
I know what he means. We are the race that spawned hedge funds.
Now, lest you think we can relax, let me point out to you that in 2028 an object called Apophis, although weighing only 27 million tons, will pass closer to Earth than some of the geosynchronous satellites we ourselves put up there. It will shave us, at about 20,000 miles, which, in cosmic terms, is nothing at all. It’s less than the circumference of the planet. That’s only a year after an absolutely enormous thing, imaginatively titled (153814) 2001 WNS, skims past us at a distance inside the moon’s orbit. This object is about eight times the size of yesterday’s visitor.
As I write, I can see Jupiter up there in the sky, to the right of the moon, another planet of our solar system, and I’m thinking, what if this asteroid had struck us, or even glanced off the Earth? You’re looking at instant annihilation of everything we consider permanent.
What do you think of that? And all because of a random rock flying at you out of the numberless void.
Bang. You’re dead.