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On the same day that the Earth survived an expected near-miss with asteroid 367943 Duende, Russian dashcams unexpectedly captured footage of a different asteroid as it slammed into the atmosphere, exploded, and injured more than 1,000 people. That day in Chelyabinsk in February 2013 reminded the world that the Earth does not exist in a bubble.
Asteroids provide a direct connection between the Earth and interplanetary space. Craters such as the Barringer Crater in Arizona are a stark reminder. The dinosaurs died out due to a different impact not far away in the Gulf of Mexico. But elsewhere in the universe, asteroids may actually transport life between different planets.
World - Flight - Moon - Future - Mars
While the world reflects on the first flight to the moon and our future on Mars, we think asteroids—the so-called "minor planets"—deserve recognition. Here's why:
We did not see the Chelyabinsk meteor coming until the Russian dashcams caught it. Fortunately, nobody died as a direct result of the explosion. Next time we may not be so lucky. Even for known asteroids, there's at least a very slim possibility that they may collide with Earth over the next few hundred years. There are currently six known asteroids with at least a 0.1% chance of impacting the Earth before the 23rd century.
Asteroid - Casualties - Forest - Thousands - City
And the same asteroid which would cause a few casualties by exploding over a forest could kill thousands by instead exploding over a large city.
Astronomers debate the origin of Earth's water, and whether it was delivered to our planet billions of years ago by comets and asteroids. NASA's Dawn space probe visited the largest known asteroid, Ceres, and detected water on its surface. In fact, NASA classifies Ceres as a former "ocean world", albeit one where the ocean of water and ammonia has since frozen and reacted with the silicate rocks to form mineral deposits...
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