NASA Emails Revealed Huge Asteroid That Narrowly Missed Earth "Slipped Through The Net"


The largest asteroid to pass as close to the Earth in a century “slipped through” NASA’s detection systems, internal emails reveal. Named 2019 OK by scientists, the asteroid nearly passed by undetected as it came 5 times closer to Earth than the moon. It was first detected by a Brazilian observatory on 24 July just hours before coming within roughly 73,000km of Earth.


 NASA’s failure to spot the 100-metre wide space rock highlighted longstanding concerns about a lack of US government funding for asteroid detection efforts. Dr Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Centre for Near Earth Object Studies, wrote to colleagues on 26 July:
“This object slipped through a whole series of our capture nets, for a bunch of different reasons. So, was this just a particularly sneaky asteroid? I wonder how many times this situation has happened without the asteroid being discovered at all?”
 
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The emails showed space agency employees rushing to discover how the asteroid avoided detection, after a colleague alerted them to the near-miss “because there may be media coverage tomorrow”.

NASA telescopes did spot the asteroid on 7 July, but it was moving too slowly to be identified as a near-Earth object. By the time it sped up it was too close to a nearly full moon for astronomers to detect, according to the emails. A planetary defense officer at NASA had written that 2019 OK appeared to be the largest asteroid to pass so close to earth in the last century. Another such event was not expected to occur until 2029, they said.

While there was never a chance the asteroid would have collided with Earth, a news release sent out weeks later by NASA said:
“If 2019 OK had entered and disrupted in Earth’s atmosphere over land, the blast wave could have created localized devastation to an area roughly 50 miles (80.5km) across.”

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