Funding for asteroid detection and the need for greater awareness of potentially dangerous space rocks has been sparked again, after astronomers caught sight of a bus-sized asteroid headed closer to Earth than the moon’s orbit only days before it passed. 2014 HL129 came within 186,000 miles of us in the early hours of Saturday morning, NASA’s Asteroid Watch project confirmed, having only spotted the roughly 25 foot wide rock the previous Wednesday.
Earth was, the Asteroid Watch team took pains to point out, at no risk from 2014 HL129, despite it undercutting the moon’s orbit. The average distance between Earth and the moon is approximately 238,855 miles.
Back in March, another asteroid almost four times the size also undercut the moon’s orbit, at 217,000 miles. Both it and 2014 HL129 are relatively small in astronomical terms; earlier in the year, NASA flagged up an 885 foot wide rock moving at a heady 27,000 mph, that would come close enough to be dubbed a “Near Earth Object”.
The Asteroid Watch division, part of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, maintains a list of identified asteroids that could come close to Earth, as well as revisiting older examples to make sure their orbit does not present a future risk.
However, there have been ongoing questions around whether the team’s remit is broad enough to pick out every potentially dangerous object, particularly given that some expects say it’s merely “blind luck” that we’ve not been hit.
With funding unlikely to change any time soon, however, NASA has turned to crowdsourcing instead, like the Asteroid Data Hunter contest, where coders are challenged to develop better algorithms for spotting rocks in photographs.