September 7th, 2010
09:28 PM ET

Two asteroids to pass close to Earth on Wednesday

Two small asteroids in unrelated orbits will pass within the moon's distance of the Earth on Wednesday, according to NASA.

It's an unusual event that shows the need for closer monitoring of near space for Earth-threatening encounters, a scientist with the program said.

The objects don't pose a threat to Earth, and they will not be visible to the naked eye, said Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near Earth Program, which tracks potentially hazardous asteroids and comets within 28 million miles of Earth.

The objects will visible from Earth as tiny specks of light with the help of moderate-sized amateur telescopes, he said.

Near-Earth asteroid 2010 RX30, which is estimated to be 32 to 65 feet in size, will pass within 154,000 miles of Earth at 5:51 a.m. ET Wednesday. The second object, 2010 RF12, estimated to be 20 to 46 feet in size, will pass within 49,088 miles of Earth at 5:12 pm ET.

In case you were wondering, that means the two asteroids will pass within 0.6 and 0.2 lunar distances from the Earth, respectively. The first will be closest to Earth over the north Pacific, and the second, over Antarctica.

Roughly 50 million objects pass through near-Earth space each day, Yeomans said. But what makes this situation noteworthy is that these two asteroids are passing so close to Earth on the same day and that NASA spotted them so far in advance.

"Things like this happen every day that we simply don’t know about because we don’t have the telescopes large enough to find them or surveys that are looking full-time," he said. "This demonstrates the system's working on some level, but we need larger telescopes and more of them to find objects that are coming this close."

The Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona, discovered both objects Sunday morning during a routine monitoring of the skies, NASA said.

The Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, first received the observations Sunday morning, determined preliminary orbits and concluded both objects would pass within the distance of the moon about three days later.

Yeomans described the discovery as a warning shot in a field of study of low-probability events that have global, high-impact consequences. He said that it was only when scientists began looking for near-Earth objects in the 1990s that they realized there was a "problem."

"We have only recently appreciated how many of these objects are in near Earth's space and [it's] best that we keep track of them and find them," he said. "I think this is Mother Nature's way of firing a shot over the bow and warning Earth-based astronomers that we have a lot of work to do."

Post by:
Filed under: Earth • Space
soundoff (361 Responses)
  1. Poacher


    List of things to do: Leave wife, go to South Beach, buy a porsche, don't worry about credit card bills, punch Glenn Beck in the face.

    September 8, 2010 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  2. Michelle789

    Darn. They missed. 😛

    September 8, 2010 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
  3. Poacher

    I really am looking for a giant asstroid to wipe us out. At least we all go out at the same time, in stylee, son. No hard feelings, and no left over post apocalyptic kids who are the only survivors.

    September 8, 2010 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  4. Tigrwudsyalll

    The objects will visible from Earth as tiny specks of light with the help of moderate-sized amateur telescopes, he said.

    Learn to edit.

    The objects will BE visible from Earth as tiny specks of light with the help of moderate-sized amateur telescopes, he said.

    September 8, 2010 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
  5. mediajackal

    Poacher: We already got giant asstroids. They're in congress.

    September 8, 2010 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
  6. david l

    Leave it up to the wonderful reporting at CNN to not ask the most curious question:

    "What would happen if they hit earth????"

    September 8, 2010 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  7. SteveM

    These two asteroids are very tiny. I'm surprised they spotted them at all. Only a few dozen feet in diamiter, that's really nothing. they probably would burn up in the atmosphere and not even make it to the ground if they hit us. Asteroids that small are very hard to spot. The bigger ones that could really threaten us, like take out a city or larger, they can be spotted fairly quickly. And no, neither of these are the asteroid that will come close to Earth in 2029 and have a very tiny possibility of hitting us a few years later. That one is named Apophis. Asteroids have hit the Earth many times in the past and will probably do so in the future. A good warning system and a good plan to destroy or divert them before they hit is what we need.

    September 8, 2010 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
  8. Rich

    Hide ya kids, hide ya wife...

    September 8, 2010 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
  9. avos

    they are only little astoroids, don't worry about them. If they are falling, we put big mattresses to bounce off and back to space.

    September 8, 2010 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
  10. Edward

    Whew! That was close!

    September 8, 2010 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
  11. Mike

    To all the rabblerousers screaming about having only "1 DAY WARNING", I ask you this - what would you have done differently if you had two days warning? Or 3? Or a week? A month? The answer is, of course, nothing (except perhaps you wouldn't complain as loudly). These AREN'T going to hit. They were identified last Sunday. It took about 3 days to confirm their trajectories. What would you rather have? CNN reporting conjecture or guesswork? Then you'd be complaining about how irresponsible CNN is.

    Seriously people - not everything is a crisis.

    September 8, 2010 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  12. Ron Reagan

    Don't everyone get their panties in a bunch.

    September 8, 2010 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
  13. Mike

    and fyi - 40 feet (assuming a steep angle, high rate of closure and failure to break up in the atmosphere) still amounts to a regional event - not global. Regional level impacts happen very, very often in astronomical terms. If this bothers you, lobby your congressional representatives to increase funding to NEO projects. Crying here about how angry you are that you didn't know about this ahead of time accomplishes ZERO.

    September 8, 2010 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
  14. akimbo

    Have you all heard? The one due in December will take out our dear moon!!! Then what??

    September 8, 2010 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  15. Tetrapod

    For the doomsayers – please read the article properly, including the sizes of the objects observed. Even a direct hit from these two would not cause significant damage, unless it hit a city or other densely populated area – these certainly aren't even close to the size that could trigger mass extinction events, or any sort of world-wide disruption.

    As to why "so many meteors recently", there hasn't been more than usual, as far as I know. It's just that we pay more attention to asteroids and meteors these days, as we've come to realize their threat more fully.

    The very short warning time is also probably related to the small size of these asteroids, althought the direction an asteroid comes from at us also plays a part. Even a very large asteroid would be completely missed until it was far too late to do anything about it, if it came from the direction to the sun – sun's bright light would mask it's presense until maybe 24 hours before it hit.

    I can't see a solution to that except to place observatories on other planets, or in space in a distant orbit, to get another perspective from which to observe the skies – but it's not likely that's going to happen any time soon, as any such project would be very expensive indeed.

    If humanity were wise, we'd invest more into this problem – not only the observation of the sky for asteroids that threaten to hit us, but also developing and testing technologies to deflect asteroids to non-dangerous paths.

    September 8, 2010 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14