Will an asteroid hit the Earth? Not this time, but we should take today's fly-by as a warning

Sarah Spickernell
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The Russians were unprepared for the asteroid explosion over Chelyabinsk (Source: Getty)
Later today, an asteroid called 2014 RC will pass by the Earth, flying 25,000 miles over New Zealand as it makes its way through space.
While that's far enough away to pose no direct threat to Earth, we shouldn't simply brush it off. It was, after all, an asteroid that supposedly killed off the dinosaurs some 65m years ago, and they were much sturdier than us. Had there been a slight diversion in 2014 RC's path we might be in a very different situation right now.
There would be little chance of it having such devastating consequences as those suffered by the dinos – 2014 RC is a comparatively tiny 60 feet in diameter. But even the small ones can cause significant damage. When a similarly sized meteor exploded in an air burst over Chelyabinsk in Russia last year at a height of 18.4 miles, it resulted in a shock wave and multiple small fragments fell down to Earth.
Undetected before it entered the Earth's atmosphere, humans were unprepared for it. The result? Factories, houses and schools were damaged or destroyed, and the Russian authorities reported that 1,491 people, including 311 children, had to seek medical attention following the catastrophe.
Asteroids with diameters of 20m or over come within close vicinity of the Earth once every 25 years according to Vox, yet we have failed to invest in the infrastructure required to spot them before they arrive. 2014 RC, for example, was spotted only a week ago on 31 August. If it was heading directly for Earth, this would have left us with little time to prepare.
While the really big ones rarely make an appearance – meteors over 1km in diameter come close to the Earth approximately once every million years – there are no proven means of stopping them when they do, and there is very little we can do to protect ourselves from their effects.
The problem with developing ways to protect ourselves lies in a shortage of funding. The simplest way would be to nudge an asteroid off its Earth-bound path by sending a craft to crash into it. The UN has already proposed the designing and testing of a network of small probes that would be able to do this, but it would cost $2.5bn and the funding is simply not available yet.
Add to that the cost of designing telescopes capable of spotting smaller asteroids before they are able to come close to Earth and we are talking around $5bn. Yet it pales in comparison to the US' military defence budget, which was $ 683.7bn in 2011. Considerably more was also spent on this year's Sochi Winter Games and Fifa World Cup in Brazil.

Alexander Rose of the Long Now Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation which puts an emphasis on long-term thinking for civilization, said in an interview with Vox: "We know that, at some point, a catastrophic meteor or asteroid will impact this planet.
"For the first time in human history, we have the capability to detect and potentially divert it. Yet we aren't really putting any money into that."

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