Asteroids and Space Junk: A Week of Close Calls in Space

The chances of having two close shaves between humans and items from space in a matter of days must be astronomical, and yet that’s exactly what has happened in recent days.

First, it was discovered that Earth was buzzed by an asteroid on June 27.   The space rock, named Learn More Here, managed to come within 7,500 miles (12,000 km) of Earth before darting back out into deeper space.

To put that distance into perspective, the asteroid came closer to Earth than some of our own satellites… and even closer to Earth than the Moon.


This view of asteroid 2011 MD was taken by members of the Remanzacco Observatory in Italy using a remote operated telescope in New Mexico during the asteroids extremely close pass by Earth on June 27, 2011. CREDIT: Remanzacco Observatory/Ernesto Guido, Giovanni Sostero, Nick Howes

Experts say that due to the vastness of space, the chances of one of these asteroids (which reportedly buzz this close to Earth every six years or so) colliding with one of our satellites is slim.  And while it was quite close to Earth in relative terms, it came no where near the International Space Station.

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The Soyuz spacecraft were introduced by the Russian Space Program. There is now a Soyuz docked with the International Space Station at all times, for cases when an emergency evacuation would be necessary.

The vastness of space was not enough to protect the International Space Station from all close calls with calamity this week.   On Tuesday, an unexpected chunk of space junk buzzed within 250 meters (820 feet) of the station, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

NASA became aware of the trajectory of the dangerous debris too late to order evasive maneuvers, and instead NASA ordered the six crew members to take shelter aboard the two Soyuz capsules.  The crew was soon after given the “all clear” as the strange space trash thankfully bypassed the station.

NASA spokesman Joshua Buck says they are currently trying to determine the source and composition of the debris, but to date remain unsure what exactly it was and where precisely it came from.

Buck described the debris as an “unknown object of unknown size.”

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