Newly Detected ‘Planet Killer’ Asteroid Could One Day Threaten Earth

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Astronomers have detected a “planet killer” asteroid passing through Earth’s orbit and could slowly approach us centuries from now.

With a diameter of about 1.1 km to 2.3 km, the asteroid, named 2022 AP7, is the largest object potentially dangerous to Earth to have been discovered in the past eight years, the team said. .

It is also likely to be in the top 5% of the largest potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) known.

The asteroid was detected by researchers using the Dark Energy Camera in Chile to search for objects in the orbits of Earth and Venus. They described their findings in an article in The Astronomical Journal published in September.

“Our twilight survey scours the area inside the orbits of Earth and Venus looking for asteroids,” said lead author Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Earth and Planets Laboratory at the Carnegie Institution for Science.

“So far we’ve found two large near-Earth asteroids about 1 kilometer in diameter, a size we call planet killers,” he said. in a report.

In addition to 2022 AP7, the team also detected two other near-Earth asteroids, called 2021 LJ4 and 2021 PH27, which have orbits that remain safely completely inside Earth’s orbit and should never be on his path.

Planet killer has ‘no chance of hitting Earth right now’

The term “planet killer” might sound scary, but as far as AP7 2022 is concerned, it will remain “well away” from Earth for now, according to Sheppard.

“It has no chance of hitting Earth right now,” he told Euronews Next in an email.

As it stands, 2022 AP7 crosses Earth’s orbit. That makes it a potentially dangerous asteroid, he said.

However, the crossing occurs at a time when Earth is on the far side of the sun, he explained, adding that this pattern will continue for the foreseeable future.

“Slowly, over time, the asteroid will begin to cross Earth’s orbit closer to where Earth is, but that will be centuries in the future, and we don’t know the orbit of 2022 AP7 precisely enough to say a lot about its dangers centuries from now,” he said.

“But for now, 2022 AP7 will remain a long way from Earth.”

“It would be a mass extinction event”

If an asteroid 1 km or larger were to hit Earth, it would have a devastating impact on life as we know it, Sheppard said.

Dust and pollutants released into the atmosphere would stay there for years, which likely means Earth’s surface would cool significantly if sunlight did not reach the planet, he said.

“It would be a mass extinction event the likes of which have not been seen on Earth in millions of years.”

The question of how to defend the Earth against possible collisions of space objects recently made headlines when NASA has confirmed that the spacecraft it crashed into an asteroid in September had successfully knocked the object out of its natural orbit.

The DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission was the first test of a planetary defense system designed to prevent a potential doomsday meteorite collision with Earth and marked the first time humanity has altered the motion of a natural body in space.

Asteroids hidden in the glare of the sun

The three newly announced asteroids are part of an elusive population lurking inside the orbits of Earth and Venus, the research team said. It’s a notoriously difficult region for observations, they said, because asteroid hunters have to deal with glare from the sun.

But astronomers were able to solve this problem by taking surveys during two 10-minute windows at night.

“There are probably only a few [near-Earth asteroids] with similar sizes to be found, and these large undiscovered asteroids likely have orbits that keep them inside the orbits of Earth and Venus most of the time,” Sheppard said.

“Only about 25 asteroids with orbits completely inside Earth’s orbit have been discovered so far due to the difficulty of observation near the sun’s glow.”

Sheppard said he and his team weren’t surprised by their findings, “since we know a few of these planet-killing asteroids are yet to be discovered.”

In fact, they expect to find a few more planet killers or larger near-Earth objects (NEOs) over the next two years.

“As of today, we believe there are about 1,000 near-Earth objects larger than 1 km in size,” he said, adding that researchers had discovered about 95% of them over the course of the last decade.

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