January 31, 2023

Filipino Guardian

Sentinels of Filipino Free Press

New potentially dangerous asteroid discovered

An international team of astronomers announced Monday the discovery of a large asteroid whose orbit intersects Earth’s, creating a small chance of a catastrophic collision far in the future.

The 1.5-kilometer (0.9-mile) wide asteroid, named 2022 AP7, was spotted in an area notoriously difficult to see 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, originally developed to study dark matter.

“2022 AP7 is crossing Earth orbit, making it a potentially dangerous asteroid, but it has no current or future trajectory that will cause it to collide with Earth,” said lead author of the results, astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science .

The potential threat stems from the fact that, like any orbiting object, its trajectory is slowly altered by myriad gravitational forces, particularly planetary ones. Forecasts are therefore difficult in the very long term.

The newly discovered asteroid is “the largest potentially dangerous object discovered in the last eight years,” said NOIRLab, a US-funded research group that runs multiple observatories.

2022 AP7 will take five years to orbit the Sun in its current orbit, which remains several million kilometers away at its closest point.

The risk is therefore very small, but in the event of a collision, an asteroid this size would have “devastating effects on life as we know it,” Sheppard said. He explained that dust thrown into the air would have a great cooling effect and produce an “extinction event not seen on Earth for millions of years.”

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

About 30,000 asteroids of all sizes — including more than 850 more than a kilometer wide — have been cataloged near Earth, earning them the “Near Earth Objects” (NEOs) label. None of them threaten the earth for the next 100 years.

According to Sheppard, “there are probably 20 to 50 large NEOs still to be found,” but most are in orbits that bring them into the sun’s glare.

A television at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, captures the final images of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) as it impacted the asteroid Dimorphos on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)

In late September, in preparation for a future discovery of a more ominous object, NASA conducted a test mission in which they crashed a spacecraft into an asteroid, proving that it was possible to alter its trajectory.