If 900-metre Asteroid Ryugu hits Earth, will we survive the awful catastrophe?

Scientists have now revealed how the Earth would be impacted if the asteroid Ryugu were to strike our planet. Know whether humans would survive that catastrophe.

| Updated on: Apr 08 2023, 17:00 IST
Asteroid fun facts in pics: NASA reveals all you need to know
Asteroid and Earth
1/5 Space is full of objects, out of which only a few have been discovered. Asteroids are some of these objects. If you are not aware about the dangerous objects called asteroids, here are some facts you should know. First, did you know that asteroids are sometimes called minor planets? Well, they are. (Pixabay)
2/5 Differences between an Asteroid, Comet, Meteoroid, Meteor and Meteorite: According to the information provided by NASA, Asteroid is a relatively small, inactive, rocky body orbiting the Sun. Comet is a relatively small, at times active, object whose ice can vaporize in sunlight forming an atmosphere (coma) of dust and gas and, sometimes, a tail of dust and/or gas. Meteoroid is a small particle from a comet or asteroid orbiting the Sun. Meteor is the light phenomena which results when a meteoroid enters the Earth's atmosphere and vaporizes, in short, a shooting star. While, Meteorite is a meteoroid that survives its passage through the Earth's atmosphere and lands upon the Earth's surface. (NASA)
3/5 Asteroid: Size, frequency and impact- More than 100 tons of dust and sand sized particles are bombarded towards Earth everyday, according to NASA. While, about once a year, an automobile-sized asteroid hits Earth's atmosphere, creates an impressive fireball, and burns up before reaching the surface. Every 2,000 years or so, a meteoroid the size of a football field hits Earth and causes significant damage to the area. Only once every few million years, an object large enough to threaten Earth's civilization comes along. Impact craters on Earth, the moon and other planetary bodies are evidence of these occurrences. Space rocks smaller than about 25 meters (about 82 feet) will most likely burn up as they enter the Earth's atmosphere and cause little or no damage. By comparison, asteroids that populate the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and pose no threat to Earth, can be as big as 940 kilometers (about 583 miles) across. (NASA)
4/5 How is an Asteroid Orbit Calculated? An asteroid's orbit is computed by finding the elliptical path about the sun that best fits the available observations of the object. That is, the object's computed path about the sun is adjusted until the predictions of where the asteroid should have appeared in the sky at several observed times match the positions where the object was actually observed to be at those same times. (Pixabay)
5/5 What is NASA doing to find and learn more about potentially hazardous asteroids and comets? NASA has established a Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), managed in the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The PDCO ensures the early detection of potentially hazardous objects (PHOs) - asteroids and comets whose orbits are predicted to bring them within 0.05 Astronomical Units of Earth (5 million miles or 8 million kilometers) and of a size large enough to reach Earth's surface - that is, greater than approximately 30 to 50 meters. NASA tracks and characterizes these objects and issues warnings about potential impacts, providing timely and accurate information. NASA also leads the coordination of U.S. Government planning for response to an actual impact threat. (AFP)
Asteroid Ryugu
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Can the Earth survive a hit by the Ryugu asteroid? Scientists reveal the answer. (Unsplash)

In 2014, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) sent a spacecraft called Hayabusa2 on a unique mission. The spacecraft was tasked with landing on an asteroid named Ryugu and to collect rock samples from it. The spacecraft successfully completed its mission in 2020 when it returned with rock samples. In addition to collecting samples, the spacecraft also landed rovers, hit it with projectiles and spent months observing it closely. And now, after spending time analyzing the sample, scientists have been able to answer a terrifying question. What would happen if the asteroid Ryugu were to strike the Earth?

The reason scientists are asking this question and are trying to find answers is because of two factors. Most of the time, when estimations around the impact of an asteroid strike is calculated, only the speed of the asteroid and the angle of strike is used to make the calculation. One very important aspect, the composition of the asteroid is often ignored.

But scientists are finding out that not all asteroids are created equal. For example, Ryugu is a rubble-pile asteroid and not a rock hard asteroid. It means how this asteroid will react to the upper atmosphere will be different from how rocky asteroids would.

The second factor is that scientists do not get to analyze and see an asteroid up close which has not been affected by the heat and pressure of entering the atmosphere. This means that the data derived from studying a pristine asteroid can give really important insight into these space rocks.

Can asteroid Ryugu destroy the Earth

Asteroid Ryugu has been measured at roughly 900 meters width. As per NASA, any asteroid that is 1 kilometers wide can trigger a global extinction event. But the answer is a little tricky to find in this case.

“Hayabusa2 succeeded in an experiment in which two 1 kilogram [2.2 pounds] projectiles were launched at a speed of 2 kilometers per second [1.2 miles per second] resulting in the formation of a crater approximately 20 meters [66 feet] in diameter. The cohesion strength of the rock was meant to be very very low. The density is just a little higher than water with a very high porosity estimated,” JAXA Department of Solar System Sciences professor Satoshi Tanaka told Space.com.

Such asteroids are known as rubble-pile asteroids and they will never reach the Earth's surface in a single piece. They are more likely to break apart in the lower atmosphere. Interestingly, we have seen such an asteroid entering the atmosphere a few years ago. The Chelyabinsk meteor was a rubble-pile asteroid and it exploded in an airburst about 35 to 40 kilometers above the ground. It was later calculated that the atmospheric blast released an energy roughly equivalent to 400–500 kilotons of TNT. It is about 33 times the intensity of the blast of the nuclear bomb that flattened Hiroshima.

And here's the kicker. The Chelyabinsk meteor was about 19 meters in width. That's just 2 percent of the size of Ryugu. So, if Ryugu were ever to hit the Earth, just the airburst itself would be catastrophic, let alone all the small pieces of the asteroid that later bombard the surface of the planet.

Luckily for us, according to estimates, there is no chance of this particular asteroid striking our planet in the near future.

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First Published Date: 08 Apr, 16:59 IST