Asteroids colliding with Earth have increased by up to three times over the past 290 million years, according to a major new study with the University of Southampton. The reason for the increase is not known but is thought to be related to larger collisions occurring that took place more than 290 million years ago in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. William Bottke, the paper co-author and Director of Space Studies at the Southwest Research Institute, discussed the scale of damage an asteroid strike could have on Earth.
The devastation could actually be quite enormous
Mr Bottke told RT: “One could imagine slightly larger ones exploding over cities.
“The devastation could actually be quite enormous.
“Fortunately, the odds of that happening are fairly low but they are not zero and that’s why it is important to be able to find these objects.”
The study comes as an asteroid, dubbed by NASA Asteroid 2019 BW1, is headed on a so-called “Earth Close Approach”.
The asteroid will speed past the planet in the afternoon on Saturday when it reaches its closest distance to Earth.
NASA asteroid warning: Expert warns meteor strike has potential to be “enormous” (Image: GETTY)
NASA’s asteroid trackers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have narrowed this down to 4.22pm GMT (UTC) on Saturday, February 2. The JPL first observed the asteroid on January 25, 2019.
But the risk of Asteroid BW1 striking the Earth at more than 21,400mph is pretty slim.
Even at its closest, Asteroid BW1 will miss the Earth by more than three million miles (4.98 million km).
NASA’s JPL estimates the BW1 to be somewhere in the range of 98.4ft to 219.8ft (30m to 67m) in diameter – an asteroid this big is eight-times longer than a London double-decker bus and is 30-times the length of a Queen Size bed.
Much smaller asteroids have caused enormous damage in the past when they stuck the Earth.
The most notable example of this is the 2013 Chelyabinsk Meteor, which exploded over Chelyabinsk Oblast in Russia six years ago.
The 65.6ft-wide (20m) space rock remained undetected as it hurled directly at Earth from the direction of the Sun.
The Chelyabinsk Meteor exploded in the air over Russia with 30-times the force of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb.
More than 1,500 people were injured and more than 7,000 buildings were damaged by the resulting airblast.
NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson: “The Chelyabinsk event drew widespread attention to what more needs to be done to detect even larger asteroids before they strike our planet.”
But Asteroid BW1 is not set to come as close to Earth – instead being dubbed as a “Near-Earth Object” (NEOs).
NEOs are comets and asteroids on orbital trajectories, which bring them incredibly close to the Earth.