'Potentially Hazardous' Near-Earth Asteroids Will Surge in 2018

Tuesday, 09 January 2018 - 11:12AM
Tuesday, 09 January 2018 - 11:12AM
'Potentially Hazardous' Near-Earth Asteroids Will Surge in 2018
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Image credit: YouTube
Good news: Last year saw a dramatic increase in the number of asteroids that we know about that flew uncomfortably close to the Earth, and 2018 is poised to see the highest amount of "potentially hazardous" near-Earth asteroids in years. 

Why is this good news?

Because none of them wiped out humanity, and as such, it's increasingly clear that extinction-level asteroid events are extremely rare.

And while "potentially hazardous" sounds frightening, it's worth noting that NASA deems any object that gets closer to Earth than 4.65 million miles away "potentially hazardous."

There's something inherently terrifying about the idea that a big giant space rock could fall out of the sky at any moment and wipe out humanity. It's enough of a pressing concern on our collective psyche that scientists have organized a global cooperative planetary defense system in order to keep a constant eye out for giant, dangerous asteroid collisions.

(Of course, at present, we have no way to defend against such monstrosities, so the system's efforts would boil down to little more than a slight advanced warning of our own impending doom.)

In spite of our constant fear, though, scientists are pretty confident that we're actually safe, and continued efforts to spot more asteroids constantly prove this.

2017 saw an increase in the number of total asteroids spotted, as a reflection not of the number of rocks that could collide with Earth, but rather, of our ability to spot them as they sail past. In total, over 2,000 asteroids were newly identified, the most that have ever been spotted in a single year, and it's looking like 2018 could deliver even more.

What's interesting is that the number of new massive asteroids—those more than a kilometer (0.6 miles) in size—has dropped off entirely, with scientists confident that we've probably already identified around 95 percent of the really big space rocks out there in our solar system.

These are the easiest things to spot, and as we now know where most of them are, we're probably not going to unexpectedly go the way of the dinosaurs any time soon.

In the meantime, considering 2017 saw the identification of plenty of mid-sized asteroids that we've never seen before, as well as the groundbreaking discovery of 'Oumuamua, the first identified asteroid from outside our own solar system, who knows what unbelievable discoveries we'll make in the next 12 months.

We also got a good look at a lot of close-call asteroids that swished past, particularly in the tail end of the year when a lot of particularly pretty lights shone across skies worldwide.

2018 will be the first full year that the planetary defense system has been in place, which will mean more cooperation between different organizations worldwide, and hopefully, an increase in the kinds of weird stuff that we'll spot in the night's sky. If we keep our eyes peeled, we might be able to see something else from outside the solar system, or better identify exactly what makes some asteroids behave the way they do.

Be prepared for more asteroids that are shaped like weird stuff, or for completely new discoveries as we keep our collective eyes trained on the beautiful flotsam that hurtles around the solar system all around us.

We're almost certainly not going to die from a massive asteroid collision, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the light show.