June 30 is marked as the asteroid day which is the United Nations-sanctioned day of public awareness of the risks of asteroid impacts. Asteroids are rocky objects that orbit the Sun just like planets do but there are several characteristics that set them apart. Most of the asteroids in the solar system are found in the main asteroid belt, which is a region between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. However, there are times when the news of an astray asteroid flying towards the earth comes in. There have been times when an asteroid has actually hit the planet and resulted in significant after-effects like the extinction of dinosaurs which is speculated to have happened due to one such event.
According to European Space Agency, asteroids that sometimes enter Earth’s atmosphere and hit the ground, like the Chelyabinsk event in 2013, can create explosive airbursts, with resulting shockwaves that may shatter glass, damage buildings and injure anyone who happens to be nearby.
So how often can an asteroid hit the earth?
According to NASA, owing to the ratio of our solar system compared to the size of the Earth, which drastically reduces the chances of it getting hit by an asteroid. However, there are still chances of such an event taking place. NASA also mentioned that even though most of the asteroids in the solar system are located in the asteroid belt, they have managed to send spacecrafts like Voyager I and II, among others, through this belt without any problems. The mission was possible due to the empty space present in the belt, explained NASA. The American space agency also keeps track of any possible asteroid collision with the help of its technology. In case astronomers find such an object there would be ample time to track and measure its orbit precisely which would give scientists time to plan a system for deflecting it from its current orbital path, mentioned NASA.
A recent example of how scientists calculate the risk of a possible asteroid collision happened last month. NASA pointed out that asteroid 99942 Apophis had been identified as one of the most hazardous asteroids that could impact Earth after it was discovered in 2004. However, that impact assessment changed as astronomers tracked Apophis and its orbit was made clear. With the help of a new radar observation campaign combined with precise orbit analysis astronomers concluded that there is no risk of Apophis impacting our planet for at least a century.
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