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Surprising Science

An asteroid that nobody knew was coming flew very, very close to our planet. Gulp.

Quick, what’s traveling at 106,000 kilometers per hour (66,000 mph) and is as big as a football field?
Asteroid 2018 GE3 is roughly the size of a football field. (Image: Pixabay/Big Think)

An asteroid that nobody knew was coming whizzed by us a few weeks ago. 

Taking everyone by surprise, the thing was both discovered and flew past Earth within about 24 hours, on April 15. Kinda gives the idea that we can actually do anything to deflect asteroids a bit of a pause, eh?

Named 2018 GE3, it passed us by at about half the distance between Earth and the moon—wicked close. 

Is this a regular occurrence? 

Scientists discover a new asteroid headed kinda toward Earth at the rate of one or two per week, and they’re usually the size of a house or a bus. Not a football field. Even still, at 100 meters in width, NASA’s asteroid detection program missed this one, since it detects objects that are 140 meters and larger.

Larger than Tunguska

Asteroid 2018 GE3 is 3.5 times larger than the asteroid (some evidence suggests it was actually a small comet) named Tunguska that leveled 2,000 km (80 million trees) of the Siberian forest way back in 1908. If 2018 GE3 had impacted Earth, the results would have very likely been catastrophic, no matter where it hit.

Still, in the big picture of living in a cosmic shooting gallery, this wasn’t all that large

It’s relative, right?

Well… I suppose that depends on whom the thing strikes when it impacts. 

Meanwhile, here are NASA and FEMA’s scramble plans for when something like it is discovered—provided there’s time. 


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