Global warming, nuclear warfare, and a new plague are potential ways that the human race can come to an end, to name just a few. Or an asteroid could barrel into our home planet and leave in its wake mass destruction, causing an extinction event. It's the thing of science fiction, but also real-life. In fact, a rock estimated to be around 187 to 427 feet wide recently zoomed past Earth, and hardly anyone noticed, including scientists. It wouldn't have destroyed humankind, but it could have decimated a really large area.
Traveling at nearly 54,000 miles per hour (MPH), the hunk of rock referred to as 'Asteroid 2019 OK' hurled through space and missed Earth by only 45,000 miles. That may seem like a large distance, because in some respects it is, but in this case it came too close for comfort. For reference, the Moon that Buzz Aldrin set foot on 50 years ago is nearly 240,000 miles away.
"It snuck up on us pretty quickly," Michael Brown, an observational astronomer in Melbourne, told The Washington Post. "People are only sort of realizing what happened pretty much after it's already flung past us."
Scientists had already been aware that asteroids would be passing by pretty close to Earth this week, but this one somehow eluded them. Two separate astronomy teams discovered the asteroid just hours before it whizzed by.
Part of the reason why it went undetected for so long is because it's actually too small for an extinction event. Asteroids this size are just difficult to detect, plain and simple. However, chunks of rock the size of Asteroid 2019 OK are certainly large enough to destroy an entire city. The potential impact has been compared to that of a nuclear weapon, or like lighting up around 10 megatons of TNT.
NASA's website says it has discovered more than 19,000 near-Earth objects (NEOs) so far in 2019. And despite what you may have seen at the movies, we're not shooting one down if it's on a direct path.
"An asteroid on a trajectory to impact Earth could not be shot down in the last few minutes or even hours before impact. No known weapon system could stop the mass because of the velocity at which it travels— an average of 12 miles per second," NASA says.
Not exactly the kind of trivia that helps a person sleep better at night!