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Blue Whale sized “Asteroid 2016 LK49” approaching towards Earth at 20 km/s

 

A recently discovered asteroid, designated as 2016 LK49, is set to make a close approach to Earth on June 20, 2023, coming within a distance of 364,150 kilometers. This places it closer to us than the Moon. With a diameter estimated between 17 and 38 meters, the asteroid will be traveling at an astonishing speed of 19.4 kilometers per second.

2016 LK49 belongs to the group of Apollo asteroids, which are near-Earth asteroids that cross Earth’s orbit and have a semi-major axis larger than that of Earth. Its elliptical orbit around the Sun brings it in proximity to our planet. It previously made a close approach in December 2020, and the next one is expected in December 2027.

While asteroids of this size make close approaches approximately once every 200 years, they generally do not pose a direct impact threat. Instead, if they enter Earth’s atmosphere, the friction causes them to disintegrate in what is known as an airburst. This results in no impact crater, as the asteroid breaks up and explodes at an altitude of around 11 kilometers. The energy released during such an event is comparable to about two megatons of TNT.

Although a direct impact is unlikely, an airburst can still have significant consequences on the surface. If the asteroid were to enter the atmosphere above densely populated areas, it could lead to widespread devastation. Trees within a radius of 14 kilometers could catch fire, and an estimated 330,000 lives could be lost, with approximately five million people sustaining severe burns.

It is worth noting that sophisticated asteroid monitoring networks play a crucial role in detecting and predicting potential impacts. In rare instances where an imminent impact is identified, efforts have been made to capture the asteroid upon its predicted entry into the atmosphere. However, such occurrences are infrequent, with only seven recorded instances in the past, the most recent of which took place in February.

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