Sorry, Harold Camping — you predicted that the world would end in 2011, but we’re here to dutifully report that it will not happen Monday, June 27. If cosmic matters had gone slightly different, though, it could have been a distinct possibility.
A newly discovered asteroid by the name of “2011 MD” passed by the Earth over the South Atlantic on Monday at approximately 1 p.m. ET, according to The Washington Post, missing a direct hit by only 7,500 miles. To put that in relatable terms it is about 3 percent of the distance between the Earth and the Moon or about as far from the Eastern U.S. as Afghanistan. A long way for earthlings, but as an interstellar encounter a definite near miss.
These small near earth asteroids are hard to track — NASA just isn’t equipped to monitor them — and often aren’t discovered until within a week of coming close to the planet.
“It’s estimated that there are nearly a billion objects this size or somewhat larger in near-Earth space,” writes Steve Tracton on The Post’s Capital Weather Gang blog.
A direct hit could either cause damage anywhere from mild (a small fireball) to catastrophic (the force of an atomic bomb). Last year, a bill was introduced in Congress to provide more funds to tracking near earth objects and establish some kind of “planetary defense.” It never became law.