Low Flying Rocks!

The internet is quite a marvellous thing really. I mean, supposing an asteroid 530-1200m in diamater and travelling at 29 kilometres every second were to pass a mere 28 600 000 km from our planet, you’d want to know about it, right? Yeah, so would I. And conveniently, you can.

Low Flying Rocks is one of the most brilliant uses of twitter I’ve ever seen. Whenever anything large and rocky passes within 0.2 AU of our planet, an update is automatically posted, like the one above. Though it may be enough to make you paranoid that updates are posted to this twitter feed frequently. Sometimes several times daily. The one above is one of the largest objects I’ve seen in quite a while, though mercifully twenty eight million kilometres isn’t actually all that close. Every once in a while though, you do find one that passes closer to Earth than the Moon.*

Don’t panic. Really, don’t. The thing is, you see, while all of this might appear to be somewhat apocalyptic, the real reminder here is that random chunks of space rock passing close to Earth aren’t particularly unusual. In fact, most of those asteroids have likely been in orbit around the Sun as long as Earth has. Some of them, perhaps longer. While it’s always possible that our planet may be struck by a rogue asteroid, the chances are fairly slim. Space, after all, is rather big.

That’s not to say, however, that we should simply close our eyes to space rocks. It’s certainly a good idea to keep an eye on them. As some have said in the past, if nearly as much money and effort was spent on actually looking for “killer asteroids” as has been on films about them, we’d have a much better idea of how safe we are. This, for example, is Toutatis. 4179 Toutatis to be precise. While it might appear innocent enough, minding its own business in its orbit around the Sun, it’s one of many nearby space rocks earmarked as a potentially dangerous object!

Still… “Potentially dangerous” isn’t a lot to worry about. These asteroids are as potentially dangerous to the Earth as cars are potentially dangerous to people crossing the street. Just because their paths cross, doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a collision. For now, it’s probably best to trust asteroid surveys like pan-STARRS to spot anything genuinely dangerous in time for us to do something about it. I think it’s safe to say that there won’t be any death from the skies anytime soon…

In the meantime, if your mind’s a little more at ease now, why not have a glance at Low Flying Rocks on twitter? Don’t be scared. They’re only asteroids.

*The Moon, incidentally, orbits an average 384 403 kilometres away from Earth.

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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