Concerns have been raised recently about the possibility of an asteroid called 2007 FT3 impacting Earth later this year. The asteroid was temporarily lost from astronomers’ sight last year, leading some to speculate that its orbital path could now put it on a collision course with our planet. However, NASA scientists have analyzed 2007 FT3’s path and say an impact this year is very unlikely.
Background on Asteroid 2007 FT3
Asteroid 2007 FT3 was discovered in March 2007 by astronomers using the Catalina Sky Survey telescope in Arizona. Initial observations showed it to be an Apollo-type asteroid approximately 0.7 miles (1.1 km) wide orbiting the Sun every 3.5 years.
Being classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid due to its size and orbit bringing it relatively close to Earth, 2007 FT3 has been periodically observed since its discovery to precisely determine its trajectory. Last year, it faded beyond detection for a period as it swung out towards the orbit of Mars.
Key Facts About Asteroid 2007 FT3
|~0.7 miles (1.1 km) diameter
|Likely carbonaceous or stony-metallic
Without visual confirmation of 2007 FT3’s location for several months, some observers raised concerns that its orbit may have changed and could now be on course for an Earth impact. Specific dates in October 2024 began circulating online as a possible collision date.
NASA Analysis Shows Impact Highly Unlikely
With worries escalating over social media regarding Asteroid 2007 FT3, NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) closely analyzed the asteroid’s orbital path using archival data. They have concluded there is no significant risk of this asteroid impacting Earth within the next 100 years.
CNEOS scientists state that even while 2007 FT3 was not visible, its orbital trajectory is very well known from extensive prior tracking. They estimate there is a 1 in 5,000 chance of an Earth impact in 2024. For comparison, those odds are lower than randomly selecting a particular grain of sand on a beach.
Additionally, the Minor Planet Center which oversees global asteroid monitoring has also confirmed that available data rules out any 2024 collision.
Probability of 2007 FT3 Hitting Earth This Year
|1 in 5,000
|1 in 50,000
While never completely impossible, an asteroid strike from 2007 FT3 this October or anytime in the coming years is thus exceedingly unlikely based on expert analysis. Still, as a large space rock that does pass not far from our planet, astronomers will continue observing it when possible to refine its orbit.
What If An Impact Did Occur?
Were an asteroid the size of 2007 FT3 to slam into Earth, it would cause catastrophic damage. Researchers estimate its kinetic energy at impact would equal roughly 2.5 billion tons of TNT explosives.
For perspective, this is over 150 times more destructive potential than the Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear bomb ever tested on Earth. It would carve out a mile-wide crater while leveling cities and raising massive clouds of debris. Devastating shockwaves would propagate for hundreds of miles, accompanied by continent-scale wildfires.
Besides the near-instant local annihilation, global effects would also follow. Soot and dust kicked high into the atmosphere would rain down for months. Significant cooling could ensue as sunlight was partially blocked, threatening agriculture reminiscent of a “nuclear winter” scenario.
In reality, however, NASA ensures no known asteroid larger than 140 meters has a significant probability of hitting the Earth within the next century. Smaller space rocks frequently burn up harmlessly in our atmosphere. Medium asteroids may strike once every 10,000 years on average. Events over 300 meters across capable of civilization-level damage are extremely rare at intervals of 100,000 years.
While a 2024 impact has essentially been ruled out, Asteroid 2007 FT3 remains a large Near-Earth Object passing close enough to our planet to potentially threaten life if its course meaningfully changes. Astronomers continue working to map all such space rocks and their trajectories to better protect against surprise asteroid strikes.
CNEOS chief Paul Chodas sums up NASA’s view that remaining vigilant is key despite recent headlines: “This is what we do. We track these objects, analyze their orbits and assess whether they pose an impact risk… I’m pleased that current observations confirm this asteroid poses no significant risk, and no other known asteroid poses a notable risk of impact over the next 100 years.”
Going forward, additional new surveys plus next-generation space telescopes will aid scientists in completing the census of sizable NEOs. Discovering and tracking poorly understood space objects before panic-inducing headlines arise remains critical to fulfilling NASA’s congressional mandate to comprehensively catalog asteroid threats.
Enhanced preparation measures in development including early warning systems, prevention technologies and emergency response plans continue progressing in the background as well. While disaster movies showcase desperate last-minute solutions, real-world planetary defense instead emphasizes continuous vigilance and methodical risk reduction to preserve our blue marble.
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