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Queensland 'asteroid' sparks concerns over near earth asteroid monitoring

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Queensland 'asteroid' sparks concerns over near earth asteroid monitoring

Post by Harry on Wed Sep 28, 2016 10:13 am


September 27 2016

Queensland 'asteroid' sparks concerns over near earth asteroid monitoring

Jorge Branco

Jorge Branco

Astronomers have raised concerns about the ability to watch for near-Earth asteroids bigger than the one thought to have lit up the central Queensland sky on Monday night.

Several experts said an asteroid was likely responsible for the multiple reports of a large bang, a flash in the sky and tremors near Gladstone about 8.30pm on Monday.
Astronomer Owen Bennedick argued there needed to be funding for observatories to monitor asteroids.
Astronomer Owen Bennedick argued there needed to be funding for observatories to monitor asteroids. Photo: supplied

Footage appearing to be of the bright flash caused by the falling celestial body emerged on Tuesday courtesy of the Department of Transport.
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Meteor reports: 'Whatever it was, it was big'

Astronomer Owen Bennedick from Wappa Falls Observatory said not enough was being done to monitor the thousands of objects orbiting the Earth, hundreds of which were asteroids one kilometre or larger in diameter.

"There's not enough research done around the world and not enough observatories or observing time to do it," he said.
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Mr Bennedick argued there needed to be funding for observatories to monitor the bodies, an organisation to help coordinate monitoring or amateur astronomers had to pick up the slack.

"It's only when they get a big scare, like when comet Schumacher-Levy hit Jupiter or when the one blew up over Chelyabinsk, everyone sort of runs to the telescope and looks for a while then they get bored and go off and do other things," he said.
The Chelyabinsk meteor in 2013 was brighter than the sun.
The Chelyabinsk meteor in 2013 was brighter than the sun. Photo: YouTube

"It needs to be either a dedicated organisation that keeps people on track or to be funded in some way."

NASA has a near-Earth object monitoring scheme keeping tabs on more than 90 per cent of one-kilometre-plus asteroids but many smaller ones could potentially collide with the Earth.

After seeing reports of the flash in the sky overnight, Mr Bennedick said he believed it was caused by an asteroid exploding in an "air burst" without smashing into the Earth.

He said it was difficult to assess the size of the object that shot into the atmosphere on Monday night without actually finding a meteorite but said it was unlikely to be any bigger than three to five metres.

University of Queensland Professor Dr Michael Drinkwater agreed that it was difficult to guess the size of what he referred to as a "fireball" but it could have been even smaller.

"Assuming this is just a fireball last night, it's not something we worry about for damage," he said.

"There's potentially half a million hit the Earth every year and we don't know about it.

"We are very worried about the potential of a much larger object hitting the Earth, an asteroid or something and there are a number of programs running to try to monitor this."

He said the risk of such an object hitting the Earth was "very small", with the chance of it hitting a populated area even smaller.

"Although an individual event if it happened could be very serious of course," he said.

"My understanding is the event early last century in Siberia, the Tunguska meteorite – that flattened a large forest, so it would have been devastating had it landed on a city.

"But again, the Earth's so big and cities are so small by comparison, even if you get one, the chances are against it hitting a populated area."

Harry
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