Discovery of a potentially dangerous new asteroid


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An international team of astronomers announced on Monday the discovery of a large asteroid crossing Earth’s orbit, creating a remote chance in the future of a catastrophic collision.

The 1.5 kilometer (0.9 mile) wide asteroid, named 2022 AP7, was discovered in an area notoriously difficult to spot objects due to glare from the Sun.

It was found along with two other near-Earth asteroids using a high-tech instrument on the Victor M. Blanco Telescope in Chile that was originally developed to study dark matter.

“2022 AP7 crosses Earth’s orbit, making it a potentially dangerous asteroid, but it does not currently or at any time in the future have a trajectory that will cause it to collide with Earth,” the report said. lead author of the findings, astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute for Science.

The potential threat comes from the fact that, like any object in orbit, its trajectory will be slowly altered due to a myriad of gravitational forces, notably by the planets. Forecasts are therefore difficult over the very long term.

The newly discovered asteroid is “the largest potentially Earth-hazardous object to be discovered in the past eight years,” said NOIRLab, a US-funded research group that operates multiple observatories.

2022 AP7 takes five years to orbit the Sun in its current orbit, which at its closest point to Earth is still several million miles away.

The risk is therefore very low, but in the event of a collision, an asteroid of this size “would have a devastating impact on life as we know it”, Sheppard said. He explained that the dust thrown into the air would have a major cooling effect, causing an “extinction event the likes of which have not been seen on Earth in millions of years”.

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His team’s findings were published in the scientific journal The Astronomical Journal. The other two asteroids pose no risk to Earth, but one is the closest asteroid to the Sun ever discovered.

Some 30,000 asteroids of all sizes – including more than 850 over a kilometer wide – have been recorded in the vicinity of Earth, earning them the label “Near Earth Objects” (NEOs). None of them threaten Earth for the next 100 years.

According to Sheppard, there are “probably 20 to 50 large near-Earth objects left to find,” but most are in orbits that place them in the glare of the Sun.

In preparation for a future discovery of a more threatening object, NASA conducted a test mission in late September during which it rammed a spacecraft with an asteroid, proving that it was possible to alter its trajectory.

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