The asteroid “Planet killer” hidden from the sun could threaten the Earth in a few thousand years

Telescopes in the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), a NSF NOIRLab program.US RLab / AURA / H. Stockebrand

Astronomers have discovered a large asteroid nearby this year, on a trajectory that could bring it dangerously close to our planet in the distant future.

The asteroid, called 2022 AP7, is about 1.5 kilometers wide, almost a mile wide. This makes it a “killer of planets,” said Scott S. Sheppard, an astronomer with the Carnegie Institution for Science, in a press release announcing the discovery on Monday.

Although the rock is not as large as the one that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, it is large enough to wreak havoc on the entire planet and potentially change life on Earth as we know it.

Thankfully, according to the researchers’ calculations, AP7 of 2022 is not headed to Earth anytime soon, especially in the next century.

“In the future, in the next thousand years, it could turn into a problem for our descendants,” Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer at Queen’s University in Belfast who was not involved in the study, told the New York Times.

But there may be other killer asteroids of planets lurking invisibly in the blind spot where 2022 AP7 was discovered: within the orbits of Earth and Venus, between us and the sun.

The sun’s glow could hide dangerous asteroids

illustration of the shadow of the asteroid with the sun shining behind

Artist’s impression of an asteroid in orbit between the Earth and the sun.DOE / FNAL / DECam / CTIO / NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / J. da Silva / Space Engine

In August 2020, a car-sized asteroid passed closer to Earth than any known space rock had ever come without crashing. It missed our planet by about 1,830 miles.

Astronomers did not know that space rock existed for up to about six hours after darted away. No one saw him coming, because he was approaching from the direction of the sun.

Telescopes locate asteroids by detecting sunlight reflecting on them. This makes it very difficult to spot asteroids located between the Earth and the sun. The brilliant glow of our star, which is 109 times wider than Earth, easily suffocates the faint glow of a mile-wide asteroid. Additionally, some asteroids are not very reflective.

To find more asteroids in this blinding zone, Sheppard’s team used a camera designed to detect dark energy, mounted on a telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

They could only scan the sky near the sun during a 10-minute window at dusk, scanning the horizon just before the sun emerges. Sheppard’s team was able to identify three previously unknown near-Earth asteroids, including AP7 from 2022. The survey results were published in The Astronomical Journal on September 29.

“They are probably few [near-Earth asteroids] with similar dimensions yet to be found, ”Sheppard said in the statement.

He added that most of the unknown asteroids likely stay closer to the sun, rather than approaching Earth’s orbit.

NASA is making plans for Armageddon

sequence of images showing an asteroid from a distance, then close and then crop the video

Screenshot of DART camera footage as the spacecraft approached, then crashed into an asteroid on September 26, 2022.NASA live

NASA is working on a game plan for the day that scientists will detect an asteroid on a true collision course with Earth. The agency just slammed a spacecraft into a distant asteroid and successfully changed that asteroid’s orbit around a larger space rock.

That mission, called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), was handy for hitting any asteroid approaching Earth, giving it a push to deflect it from course. No such asteroids have been identified, but NASA is preparing for the possibility of future discoveries.

However, scientists previously told Insider that NASA would likely need about 5-10 years to build and launch a DART-like deflection mission for an asteroid that posed a threat to Earth. This means that astronomers have to identify asteroids long before they get close to our planet.

NASA is slowly advancing a space telescope to track down more city killer asteroids in our cosmic neighborhood. That project, called the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor, recently saw its budget slashed by more than $ 100 million. The launch is expected as early as 2028.

neocam asteroid hunter spacecraft discovery nasa jpl caltech

An artistic idea of ​​the NEO Surveyor asteroid hunting mission.NASA / JPL-Caltech

The telescope is designed to help NASA fulfill the Congressional mandate to find and track 90% of all near-Earth objects 140 meters or more in size. It’s big enough to obliterate a city like New York. The goal was to find them by the end of 2020. Obviously NASA is behind.

So far, NASA estimates that it has only cataloged 40% of those city killers. NEO Surveyor would help locate the rest of them. This includes asteroids coming from the direction of the sun.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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