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Asteroid Flyby of Earth: Experts Comment on Space Rock Close-call

Credit: NASA

The up-coming close flyby of asteroid DA14 is stirring up considerable attention.

On Friday, Feb. 15, the 50-meter-wide asteroid DA14 will pass within 17,000 miles of Earth, closer than a typical communications satellite.

This space rock, if it were to impact our planet rather than nearly miss Earth, it would explode with a four-megaton force near what the military calls “optimum height for damage.”

That’s the view of Jay Melosh, a distinguished professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences and physics and aerospace engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

If it slammed into Earth, DA14 would release roughly half the energy of the Siberian strike in 1917 that leveled thick forest for 20 miles in every direction.

But Melosh notes that the 30,000-foot detonation height of the asteroid would cause significant property damage and loss of life, especially if the object were to explode over a metropolis like New York or Chicago.

Melosh modeled a hypothetical impact with Impact:Earth!, the interactive website he created that is used for disaster planning purposes by safety officials from agencies that include the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security.

Check out the website for Impact: Earth at:

http://www.purdue.edu/impactearth/

“We’re talking about an airburst with the power of a mid-size thermonuclear weapon, with similar results,” Melosh said in a Purdue press release. “The worst damage would be directly beneath the explosion – but windows and wood buildings 15 miles out would be imperiled.”

Harvesting asteroids

While doom and gloom is one aspect of an asteroid collisions with Earth, there are groups out to mine these space rocks for all they are worth.

By processing asteroid DA14 could be worth up to $195 billion in metals and propellant – but only if it were in a different and accessible orbit

That’s the claim from Deep Space Industries (DSI), a new startup firm that envisions mining asteroids in the future.

According to Rick Tumlinson, Chairman of DSI: “While this week’s visitor isn’t going the right way for us to harvest it, there will be others that are…and we want to be ready when they arrive.”

DSI believes there are thousands of near Earth asteroids that will be easier to chase down than this one.

“The challenge right now is to get out there soon so we can inspect and sample them,” Tumlinson said in a DSI press statement. “Whether for mining, science or planetary defense, we really need to begin getting close up and personal with these objects.”

By Leonard David

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