For a long time. we’ve been obsessed with the idea that an asteroid will come along and smash us to oblivion. Every year there’s another “death asteroid” that turns out to be nothing. That said, if there ever is a “death asteroid,” not even NASA thinks they’ll be able to spot it in time, let alone get a team of oil-riggers aloft to destroy it Michael Bay-style. And a newly discovered asteroid that nearly creamed the planet is a good illustration of the problem.
The good news is that 2017 HV2 was only about 21 feet across, which isn’t big enough to destroy the world; that’ll have to be a fifty or sixty-mile wide whopper. The bad news is that it nearly hit Earth and we had no idea it was coming until just hours before it showed up. 2017 HV2 passed within 0.33 of the lunar distance of Earth; that is, it was closer to the Earth than the moon was. It missed, of course, but it’s a little worrying that we didn’t know about it for so long.
Asteroid detection deserves prioritization. A sixty-foot asteroid detonating over Chelyabinsk went off with the force of 20 atomic bombs, and scientists recently confirmed the oldest historical event we have records of is a comet striking Earth and setting off a mini Ice Age. 2017’s HV2 could have done some serious damage and there wouldn’t have been any way to know until it was too late. But we’re only dedicating about $50 million a year to asteroid-spotting, so we’d better hope either our luck holds, or another nation helps pick up the slack.