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Scientists have discovered a large asteroid, estimated to be nearly a mile long and dubbed a “planet killer”.
The space rock, which could potentially pose a danger to planet Earth, albeit not in the short term, had been hidden behind the sun’s glow, according to a press release from NOIRLab.
Based on a new study published in The Astronomical Journal in September, AP7 of 2022 is arguably the largest potentially dangerous asteroid discovered in the past eight years. It is also one of three near-Earth asteroids that have been found in orbit between Earth and Venus.
The other two were named 2021 LJ4 and 2021 PH27, the latter being the closest known asteroid to the sun. Its surface is hot enough to melt lead during its orbit, the study says.
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Scientists were able to detect the new findings using the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) mounted on the 4-meter Victor M. Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.
“Our twilight survey is scouring the area within the orbits of the Earth and Venus for asteroids,” Scott S. Sheppard, an astronomer at the Earth and Planets Laboratory at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC, and lead author of the study, reads a note.
“So far we have found two large asteroids close to Earth about 1 kilometer wide, a size we call planet killer.”
He added, for the New York Times“If this hits the Earth, it would wreak havoc on the entire planet. It would be very damaging to life as we know it.”
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Finding space rocks was a huge observational challenge as astronomers only had two 10-minute windows each night during which they could observe the inner solar system to avoid the intense impact of sunlight.
The new technology provided by DECam, funded by the US Department of Energy, has allowed astronomers to capture areas of the sky with great sensitivity, obtaining deep, wide-field observations.
“Large areas of the sky are needed because inner asteroids are rare and deep images are needed because asteroids are faint and you are battling the bright twilight sky near the Sun as well as the distorting effect of the Earth’s atmosphere,” Sheppard explained, for US RLab. “DECam can cover large areas of the sky at depths not reachable with smaller telescopes, allowing us to go deeper, cover more sky and probe the inner solar system in ways never done before.”
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However, after studying the 2022 AP7 motion by retrospectively identifying it in older images, the data accumulated from the observation showed that the asteroid would not land on Earth within the next century or even longer.
“There is an extremely low probability of an impact in the near future,” said Tracy Becker, a Southwest Research Institute planetary scientist who was not involved in the study. NYT.
Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast who was not involved in the study, said, according to the publication, there is a possibility that “in the future, in the next thousands of years, it could turn into a problem for our descendants. “