Two very close calls with celestial events


Rick Sorrels

Earth just missed two very close, near-catastrophic events, involving first an asteroid, shortly followed by a massive solar flare, with very little warning for either.

Asteroid 2014RC passed over New Zealand at 2:18 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, with the only apparent damage from a small rock that broke away, causing an explosion, Earth tremors, and a crater 39-feet across and 25-feet deep in a wooded area next to the international airport in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua.

The asteroid was nicknamed “Pitbull” by Slooh, which refers to itself as the “community observatory,” because the asteroid is “small is size, can be ferocious, but rarely bites.”

NASA reported Pitbull’s diameter at 60-feet, another source cited 65-feet, a third source said 88-feet. NASA said that Pitbull passed “25,000 miles away” from Earth. Another source said that the measurement was from the center of the Earth, making Pitbull’s passage only 21,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, therefore well within the orbital parking distance of our geosynchronous communications and weather satellites that orbit at 22,300 miles. There have been no reports of any satellite damage.

On its live online coverage on Saturday afternoon, Slooh’s astronomer stated that “Pitbull’s coloring was similar to asphalt, making it only one-ten thousandth as bright as planet Neptune, which itself is not bright enough to see.” Being roughly the size of a small dark house, it is easy to understand why Pitbull remained unidentified until after it was picked up on photographs taken as it was passing our moon.

Slooh’s spokesperson said that “Asteroids can only be identified by comparing multiple photographs of the same area of space over a period of time. Astronomers look for something that changes position in relation to the background stars. With enough pictures, they can approximate size, distance, and direction of travel.”

The first photos of Pitbull were taken on Aug. 31 by observatories in Arizona and Hawaii. Pitbull was identified with the first information release about midnight Sept. 2. AP and UPI posted notices online on Sept. 4 and 5.

NASA has a priority of identifying more of the estimated 1 million asteroids which remain unidentified, that are larger then 450 feet across and could surprise the planet at any time.

In its near passage to Earth, Pitbull’s orbit was altered by Earth’s gravitational pull. Scientists are calculating Pitbull’s new orbit and return date.

In February of 2013, an asteroid of similar size exploded over Chelyabinsk in central Russia, injuring 1,700 people.

Scientists are in agreement that a much larger asteroid caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65-million years ago. Experts say that we now have the technology to travel to incoming asteroids and redirect them, provided that we have enough warning.

There was a recent solar flare as well.

The sun threw billions of tons of solar material at Earth, which barely missed when the twin solar flares passed by the planet on Wednesday, Sept. 10, and then again on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014.

We get little warning when this charged material travels, like it did, at 5-million miles per hour across the 93-million miles that separate the sun from the Earth. These flares arrived in only 19 hours.

The first flare was medium sized, the second was a massive X-class, the strongest since the November 2003 flare that knocked out power across Europe, and sent astronauts scurrying for shelter in the International Space Station.

Communications devices, GPS systems, and electrical distributions are all sensitive to solar flares. This time, little was affected, but if the full force of an X-class flare were felt, scientists say that we could have been launched back to the stone-age.

For more information, google: Slooh, Virtual Telescope Project, Goldstone Complex, Business Insider, Universe Today, Scientific American, Forbes, European Space Agency and ABC News.