‘Planetkiller’ asteroid hiding in the sun’s glare could one day smash into Earth
A “planet killer” asteroid hiding in the sun’s glare has finally been discovered, and the giant space rock could one day impact Earth.
Currently 2022 AP7 crosses Earth’s orbit as our planet moves on the other side of the Sun, but scientists say the asteroid and Earth will slowly intersect the same point closer over thousands of years, increasing the likelihood of a catastrophic impact. The asteroid, discovered alongside two other near-Earth asteroids using the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, was described in a study published Sept. The Astronomical Magazine.
“So far we have found two large asteroids near Earth [NEAs] that is about 1 km [0.6 mile] over, a size we call planet killers,” study lead author Scott Sheppardan astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC, said in a statement. “Planet killer” asteroids are space rocks large enough to cause a global mass extinction event if they hit Earth.
To find the asteroids, the astronomers trained the dark energy camera of the Cerro Tololo Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter telescope on the inner solar system. The sun’s glare makes observations impossible for most of the day, so the researchers only had two 10-minute twilight windows each night to make their observations.
“Only about 25 asteroids with orbits completely within Earth’s orbit have been discovered so far because of the difficulty of observing the sun’s glare up close,” Sheppard said. “There are probably only a few NEAs of similar size left, and these large undiscovered asteroids probably have orbits that keep them within the orbits of Earth and Venus most of the time.”
NASA tracks the locations and orbits of about 28,000 asteroids and tracks them with the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS), an array of four telescopes capable of performing a scan of the entire night sky every 24 hours. The space agency marks any space object that comes within 120 million miles (193 million km) of Earth as a “near-Earth object” and classifies any large body within 4.65 million miles (7.5 million km) of our planet as “potentially dangerous.”
Since ATLAS was brought online in 2017, it has seen more than 700 near-Earth asteroids and 66 comets. Two of the asteroids detected by ATLAS, 2019 MO and 2018 LA, hit Earth, the first exploding off the southern coast of Puerto Rico and the latter crash-landing near the Botswana-South Africa border. Fortunately, those asteroids were small and caused no damage.
NASA has estimated the orbits of all nearby terrestrial objects after the end of the century. Earth will not be threatened by an apocalyptic collision of an asteroid for the next 100 years, according to NASA. But this doesn’t mean astronomers think they should stop looking. In March 2021, for example, a meteor the size of a bowling ball exploded over Vermont with the strength of 440 pounds (200 kilograms) of TNT. Even more dramatic was the explosion of a meteor in 2013 over Chelyabinsk, Russia, which set off an explosion roughly equivalent to about 400 to 500 kilotons of TNT, or 26 to 33 times the energy released by the Hiroshima bomband injured about 1,500 people.
Space agencies around the world are already working on possible ways to fend off a dangerous asteroid should one ever come our way. On September 26, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft sent through the harmless asteroid Dimorphos natural rammingchanging the asteroid’s orbit by 32 minutes in the first test of Earth’s planetary defense system.
China has also suggested: it is in the early planning stages of an asteroid diversion mission. By hitting 23 Long March 5 rockets into the asteroid Bennu, which will swing within 4.6 million miles (7.4 million km) of Earth’s orbit between 2175 and 2199, the country hopes to divert the space rock. of a potentially catastrophic impact on our planet .
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