The passing is uncomfortable for a couple of reasons: 1) Any space object nicknamed “The Beast” should be fear inducing no matter how close it is; and 2) The massive asteroid was only detected six weeks ago, much too late for NASA or any other agency to have diverted the path of such an asteroid if it was on a collision course with Earth.
The asteroid, officially named 2014 HQ124, lives up to its nickname when one looks at the numbers behind the story.
“The Beast” measures in at 1,100 feet (335 meters) in diameter – similar in size to a movie theater, football stadium, or a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Currently, the asteroid is hurtling through space at a speed of 31,000 mph. If it was to enter Earth’s gravitational field, its speed would increase to 40,000 mph by the time of impact.
Asteroid impact expert Mark Boslough, of Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, shed some light on how devastating an asteroid of such proportions and traveling at such high speeds would do to the Earth:
What’s disconcerting is that a rocky/metallic body this large, and coming so very close, should have only first been discovered this soon before its nearest approach. HQ124 is at least 10 times bigger, and possibly 20 times, than the asteroid that injured a thousand people last year in Chelyabinsk, Siberia… If it were to impact us, the energy released would be measured not in kilotons like the atomic bombs that ended World War II, but in H-bomb type megatons… You’d end up with a crater about 3 miles across. An event like that would break windows over 100 kilometers away.To add some further perspective, the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima exploded with 15 kilotons of force, while “The Beast” would impact the Earth with a 2,000 megaton explosion. (1,000 kilotons equals 1 megaton.)
If that news wasn’t disconcerting enough, NASA officials estimate that only 30 percent of the estimated 15,000 near-Earth asteroids measuring 460 feet in diameter have been discovered, while less than 1 percent of those measuring in with a diameter of 100 feet have been found.