Asteroids: ESA chief discusses plan to ’divert risk from Earth’

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An asteroid known as 2021 KN2 had a close approach with Earth last night (May 31). The asteroid in question shot by our planet at around 0.4 lunar distances (LDs). One LD is the distance between Earth and the Moon, which is 384,000 kilometres.

This means 2021 KN2 came within just 154,000 kilometres of Earth – a hair’s width in astronomical terms.

The asteroid was travelling at a staggering 9.8 kilometres per second when it zoomed by Earth.

At that speed, which translates to more than 35,000 km per hour, it would be able to orbit Earth in around an hour.

For reference, it takes the Moon around 29 days to complete an orbit of Earth.

Thankfully, asteroid 2021 KN2 did not pose a threat to Earth.

Not only did it pass at a safe enough distance to not be threatening, but it was also a small space rock.

Analysis from NASA revealed it to only be around seven metres in diameter.

At that size, it would have merely burned up in the atmosphere had it been drawn in by our planet’s gravitational pull.

But the close approach of asteroids such as 2021 KN2 allows scientists to study passing space rocks.

These asteroids which pass close to Earth, known as near Earth objects (NEOs), provide the likes of NASA the opportunity to look at the history of the solar system.

NASA said on its JPL website: “NEOs are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood.

“The scientific interest in comets and asteroids is due largely to their status as the relatively unchanged remnant debris from the solar system formation process some 4.6 billion years ago.

“The giant outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) formed from an agglomeration of billions of comets and the left over bits and pieces from this formation process are the comets we see today.

“Likewise, today’s asteroids are the bits and pieces left over from the initial agglomeration of the inner planets that include Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.”

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