It’s easy to dismiss the notion of a giant asteroid colliding into Earth and threatening all life as we know it — until you remember that 65 million years ago, that’s exactly what happened. Now that the human species is 7 billion and counting, some people are rightfully anxious about an asteroid apocalypse.
It only takes a single stray asteroid or comet hurtling towards the Earth to put the planet into Defcon 666. The whole point of Asteroid Day (founded by Queen guitarist Brian May, because why the hell not) is to raise awareness to the existential threat of near Earth objects. Sure, most asteroids don’t pose the threat of extinction whatsoever, but many of those rocks could still cause a great deal of damage to Earth’s communities and put millions in harm’s way.
June 30, the formal date of Asteroid Day, will be chock-full of events meant to apprise the public of why we need to develop better systems for tracking near Earth objects in the solar system and design better solutions for protecting the planet, should one of those rocks head straight for us.
But it’s also a good opportunity to remember the numerous times we almost faced our own Armageddon event. Here are some of the biggest close shaves by an asteroid in recent history.
1972: the Great Daylight Fireball
This was one of the earliest scientifically-observed Earth-grazing objects (which actually enter and exit the atmosphere). In August, 1972, an object about 5 meters in diameter and between an estimated 10,000 and 100,000 kilograms in mass dipped into the Earth’s atmosphere at over 33,000 mph above Utah, and exited just over Alberta, Canada. It came in about 36 miles in altitude, This baby made almost-contact with us before near-Earth objects were able to be studied with more sensitive instruments, so astronomers had to assess what they saw using approximations and estimations.
2004: 2004 FU162
The name seems almost too appropriate. FU162 got about 8,000 miles away from Earth before deciding it would just keep on keepin’ on and skip annihilating Earth. Okay, that’s not entirely true — the object is estimated to be a mere 4 to 12 meters in diameter. Even if it it had hit Earth, the destruction would have likely been minimal — had it even managed to survive burning up in the atmosphere.
2006 Fireball above Japan
Another Earth-grazer here, this rock zoomed by the planet above Japan on March 29, 2006, at about 44.37 miles in altitude. At 100 kilograms in mass, there’s a good chance it could have destroyed something or hurt some people had it managed to pierce through into the lower atmosphere and hit Earth.
CQ1 is the closest asteroid to ever approach the Earth without impacting since scientists began keeping track of these objects regularly. CQ1 got about 7,300 miles from Earth — less than the distance of the U.S. Atlantic coastline to Hawaii. Still, the object was just about one meter in diameter — the puny thing was hardly a threat.
2013: 367943 Duende
About 30 meters in diameter, Duende got about 21,000 miles away from Earth during its flyby on February 15, 2013. The Chelyabinsk meteor actually entered Earth’s atmosphere above Russia and impacted the surface of the planet just 16 hours before Duende made its pass, so the spotlight was understandably lukewarm. But we still love you, Duende.
2017: 2012 TC4
This asteroid hasn’t actually passed by the Earth yet, but it will later this year, and it’s going to be a pretty exciting event. Keep your eyes peeled on October 12, when 2012 TC4 will make zoom by the planet a little less than 9,000 miles away. The object is between 10 and 31 meters in diameter, so it’s heftier than what we’re normally used to.