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‘Planet Killer’ Asteroid Seen

Asteroid
Courtesy of Jason Bachman (Flickr CC0)

Plant Killer

Three near-Earth asteroids that were hiding out in the sun’s glare, discovered by astronomers. The largest potentially dangerous object that posed a risk to Earth in the last eight years, discovered to be one of the asteroids.

The asteroids are part of a class that can be discovered near the orbits of Earth and Venus, but because the sun’s brightness blocks telescope observations of them, it is very challenging to observe them.

Astronomers jumped at the chance to carry out their observations during the brief window of twilight in order to avoid the sun’s glare. Using the Dark Energy Camera on the Victor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, a global team discovered the space rocks.

Their research, released in The Astronomical Journal on Monday.

It is difficult for scientists to predict when one of the asteroids, 2022 AP7, which is 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) in diameter and has an orbit that could bring it into Earth’s path in the future.

According to main study author Scott S. Sheppard, an astronomer at the Earth & Planets Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC, “Our twilight scan is searching the area between Venus and Earth’s orbits for asteroids.”

Asteroids

“Two planet-killing-sized near-Earth asteroids with a diameter of around a kilometer have so far been found.”

Since it takes an asteroid five years to complete an orbit around the sun, scientists have discovered that the asteroid crosses Earth’s orbit, but it does so when Earth is on the other side of the sun. This pattern will persist for generations. But as time goes on, the asteroid’s orbit will get closer to Earth’s. As of right now, the asteroid “will keep a good distance from Earth,” according to Sheppard, although scientists don’t yet have a precise enough understanding of its orbit to predict how dangerous it might become in the future.

The Possible Aftermath

He stated that a near-Earth asteroid of 1 km (0.6 mi) or more “would be devastating for life as we know it.” Years of air pollution and dust buildup would chill the planet and block sunlight from reaching its surface.

It would cause a major extinction disaster beyond anything the planet has experienced in millions of years, according to Sheppard.

Over the following few of years, the team anticipates discovering more planet-killing asteroids in their survey. Surveys over the past ten years have found almost 95% of the estimated 1,000 larger-than-1-kilometer near-Earth objects that exist.

Asteroid
Courtesy of saxettom (Flickr CC0)

Other Asteroids!

The other two asteroids, 2021 LJ4, and 2021 PH27 are on significantly less dangerous orbits and do not present a threat to Earth.

However, because 2021 PH27 is the known asteroid that is closest to the sun, astronomers got interested by it. The space rock’s surface gets hot enough to melt lead as it gets nearer to our star.

Astronomers looking for asteroids in the inner solar system, which includes Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and the main asteroid belt, have a significant obstacle. They only have two 10-minute windows each night to scan the region using ground-based telescopes in order to escape the intense light of the sun.

Challenges

Astronomers still encounter challenges during twilight because of the sun’s bright sky in the background. Additionally, because their telescopes must stay focused toward the horizon in order to scan the inner solar system, they must look through Earth’s dense atmosphere and its distorting effects.

If the situation seems challenging for terrestrial telescopes, it is even more challenging for space-based telescopes like Hubble and James Webb to observe the inner solar system because the sun’s heat and harsh light could damage their equipment. For this reason, both space observatories pointed away from the star.

Discoveries

Astronomers were able to overcome their observational difficulties thanks to the Dark Energy Camera’s wide-field capacity and thoroughly scan large areas of the night sky.

“Deep photographs are necessary since asteroids are dim and you must contend with the brilliant twilight sky near the Sun as well as the Earth’s atmosphere’s distortions.” Sheppard said. Large expanses of sky are necessary since inner asteroids are few. “With DECam, we can explore the inner Solar System in ways that have never been done before since it can cover vast regions of sky to depths that are not achievable with smaller telescopes.,” said Dr. David E. Clark.

Asteroids and comets with orbits that bring them within 48.3 million kilometers (30 million miles) of Earth, referred to as near-Earth objects. One of the main objectives of NASA and other space organizations throughout the world is to find threats from near-Earth objects that could cause significant harm.

Although there currently no asteroids directly headed towards Earth, there are more than 27,000 near-Earth asteroids of diverse sizes and forms.

Is Earth Safe?

While NASA recently demonstrated with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART mission, that it is possible to safely change an asteroid’s course in orbit, scientists first need to identify space rocks that represent a threat to our planet. Asteroids that were previously unknown can now get located by tools like the Dark Energy Camera and upcoming space-based observatories like the Near Earth Object Surveyor.

The distribution and dynamics of space rocks, such as how the sun’s heat can fracture and fragment them over time, will be better understood by scientists as a result of their study of and comprehension of asteroid populations.

One of the largest and most accurate searches yet made for objects near and inside Venus’ orbit is our DECam survey, according to Sheppard. “This is a unique chance to understand the kind of things that, concealed within the inner Solar System.”

Written by Lance Santoyo

Sources:

CNN: ‘Planet killer’ asteroid spotted hiding in the sun’s glare

Space: ‘Planet killer’ asteroid found hiding in sun’s glare may one day hit Earth

Gizmodo: Scientists Find Potentially Hazardous Asteroid Hiding in the Sun’s Glare

Featured Image Courtesy of Jason Bachman Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Inset Image Courtesy of saxettom Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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