Asteroid impacts Earth just two hours after it was discovered

The asteroid, 2022 EB5, was small and burnt up in the atmosphere. However, more asteroids are coming, one flying by closer to the Earth than the Moon.

 Asteroid (illustrative) (photo credit: SHUTTERSTOCK)
Asteroid (illustrative)
(photo credit: SHUTTERSTOCK)

An asteroid struck the Earth over the weekend, just two hours after it was discovered.

Designated 2022 EB5, the small rocky object impacted the planet on March 11 north of Iceland, according to numerous astronomers online. 

At just three meters wide, 2022 EB5 was around just half the size of an average male giraffe, which grows to be around five-six meters in height. As such, it was unlikely to do any damage if it had impacted the planet. 

The 2022 EB5 had harmlessly burned up in the atmosphere, and it is unknown if any residual fragments have actually survived intact. Some in Iceland have reported hearing a boom or seeing a flash of light around this time, and the International Meteor Organization is looking for witness reports of anyone who may have seen anything, which can be submitted here.

The asteroid itself was only discovered just two hours prior to impact by Hungarian astronomer Krisztián Sárneczky.

Dangers of asteroids

Asteroids are potentially one of the most dangerous natural disasters the planet could experience, especially since there is currently no immediate way to stop them.

According to research from the Davidson Institute of Science, the educational arm of Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science, an asteroid over 140 meters in diameter would release an amount of energy at least a thousand times greater than that released by the first atomic bomb if it impacted Earth.

Something even larger – over 300 meters wide like the asteroid Apophis – could destroy an entire continent. An asteroid over a kilometer in width – like 138971 (2001 CB21), which flew past the Earth in early March – could trigger a worldwide cataclysm.

Even small asteroids have the potential to cause damage, however.

The last asteroid impact prior to 2022 EB5 was in 2013 when a small asteroid around 17-20 meters wide impacted, exploding over Chelyabinsk, Russia. While the impact itself wasn't severe, the shockwave caused thousands of windows to shatter and saw many injured and in need of medical attention due to the shattered glass.

It is for this reason that scientists worldwide have worked to study the many asteroids in space and catalog them, calculating their trajectories and anticipating any possible impact events.

And there are many of them. Asteroids make up one of the most numerous types of objects in the solar system. Currently, over 1,113,000 asteroids are known to exist in the solar system, according to NASA, but those are just the ones definitively identified, with experts always finding more.

Luckily, they can usually be identified due to the many powerful telescopes at the disposal of astronomers. However, not all of them are.

 An asteroid is seen heading towards the planet in this artistic rendition. (credit: PIXABAY) An asteroid is seen heading towards the planet in this artistic rendition. (credit: PIXABAY)

The asteroids you don't see coming

In 2019, a 100-meter asteroid designated 2019 OK skimmed past the Earth at a distance of just 70,000 kilometers. 

According to a study published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Icarus in early 2022, this was because some asteroids are able to essentially sneak through a metaphorical blind spot. Essentially, they seem to move much slower than they actually are. By approaching Earth from a specific part of the eastern sky, these asteroids could appear stationary around the orbit.

But this is only just one reason.

In September 2021, asteroid 2021 SG passed by the Earth at an extremely close distance. However, scientists never saw it coming – in fact, they only saw it after it had already flown by. This happened again in October, when 2021 UA1, which was only just two meters wide, was spotted after flying past the Earth at a distance of just 3,000 kilometers.

The asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk had also gone undetected.

The reason for this is that, unlike other asteroids that approach Earth as they head towards the Sun, these came from the direction of the Sun. The glare from the light of the Sun makes spotting these asteroids difficult.

Why was 2022 EB5 not noticed until just two hours before?

It wasn't for either of the aforementioned reasons. Rather, according to Weizmann Institute of Science astronomer Dr. David Polishook – who is also part of NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission, the first major attempt at testing a method to stop an asteroid impact – it wasn't noticed simply because of its size.

"It was a tiny rock. It reflects just a little light from the Sun - it is hard to identify it," Polishook explained.

He added that this is just the fifth time an asteroid was spotted before it impacted the Earth.

"The impact made no damage, falling into the sea between Norway to Iceland. However, just imagine it would have crashed a few hours earlier over Russia," Polishook said. "With the ongoing crisis, would Russia have identified it as an asteroid or as a rocket, and returned fire with its own missiles?"

Incoming asteroids!

But while 2022 EB5 has harmlessly impacted the planet, more asteroids are heading in our direction – in fact, several are set to pass by the Earth today.

Designated 2022 DX2, 2022 DR3, 2018 GY, 2022 ES3 and 2022 EO4, each of these asteroids are very small, ranging between estimates of 9.6 meters and 71 meters wide, and will likely harmlessly pass by the planet, according to NASA's asteroid tracker – in fact, it is likely some will have already done so before long.

However, one of them, 2022 ES3, will be coming much closer than the rest, set to pass by the Earth at a distance of around 334,000 kilometers – still far, but still closer to Earth than the Moon. It is currently set to pass by the Earth sometime this evening, and a livestream of its flyby will be available online starting at 8:30 p.m. Israel time courtesy of the Virtual Telescope Project.

This asteroid is estimated to be between 9.6 meters to 22 meters in width, making it still considerably small and just around the size of the Chelyabinsk asteroid at its maximum estimate, so any damage it could cause would be minor.

That is still assuming it impacted the Earth at all.

Estimates aren't absolute

According to NASA estimates from 2021, the Earth was free of risk of any asteroid impacts from the next century, after it had finally calculated that the massive asteroid Apophis would harmlessly fly past the planet.

However, it is important to remember that estimates are just that – estimates. They aren't absolute or certain, as seen from 2022.

According to reports, such as from the Hindustan Times, it was originally estimated that the asteroid would skim past the Earth at a distance of just under 3,000 kilometers. However, this proved to not be the case, likely due to the gravitational pull of Earth. 

This is a reminder that just because something seems likely doesn't always mean it's certain. There are always a number of possible variables that can affect the outcome.