Astronomers on the hunt for medium-sized asteroids that could help build a city or beasts have spotted new potential threats to the barrenness of Earth’s surface. But we don’t have to worry right away – it will be many generations until our planet is threatened.
He discovers the unknown space of the place and rests on the rocks, watching the sun from the shiny surfaces. But some asteroids hold corners of the sky where the glare of the sun suffocates them, and like sparks flying before a thermonuclear bonfire, they disappear from view.
Last year, in hopes of finding asteroids covered by too much sunlight, an international team of astronomers recruited a camera specifically designed to investigate the universe’s notoriously elusive dark energy. In an announcement Monday following an extension first published in September in the Astronomical Journal, researchers reported the discovery of three new light-submerged projectiles.
One of these, 2022 AP7, is nearly a thousand miles long, and its orbit crosses Earth’s path around the sun, coming within 4.4 million miles of Earth itself — uncomfortably close by cosmic standards (though Earth’s moon is far more distant). That 2022 AP7 is “the largest potentially hazardous asteroid discovered in the last eight years or so,” said Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC and an author of the study.
After the asteroid was discovered in January, additional observations studied its motion and other astronomers retrospectively noted it in older images. This detailed information revealed that they will not visit Earth in the next century, and possibly much longer.
“It’s a very low probability of significance in the foreseeable future,” says Tracy Becker, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute who was not involved in the study.
But the gravitational pull of objects around the solar system — including our own planet — means that asteroids transiting Earth don’t always dance in the same way. Asteroid 2022 AP7 is no exception. “Over time, this asteroid will be brighter and brighter in the sky, as it begins to pass the Earth’s orbit closer and closer to where the Earth actually is,” Dr. Sheppard said.
It is possible that “down the line, in the next thousand years, our posterity will have a problem,” said Alan Fitzsimmons, an astrologer at Queen’s University Belfast, who was not involved in the study.
And if in the unfortunate timeline of 2022 AP7 finally impacts Earth?
“This is what we call the killer of the planet,” said Dr. Sheppard. “If this one hit Earth, it would destroy the planet. It would be the worst for life as we know it.
But, as we have been safe for many ages, the orbit of this asteroid is not very remarkable. “The interesting thing about 2022 AP7 is its relatively large size,” Cristina Thomas said. A planetary astronomer at Northern Arizona University who was not involved in the study. Its existence suggests that other elephantine asteroids, veiled by the glare of the sun, remain invisible.
Today, astronomers are looking for potentially dangerous asteroids — those that come less than 4.6 million miles from Earth and are too chunky to burn up without incident in our atmosphere — to find a focus on rocks about 460 feet across. There are at most ten thousand of them, and fewer than half have been marked. They could have a devastating fall on a rural scale. Such threats have prompted NASA and other space activities to deploy planetary defense missions such as DART, the spacecraft that successfully maneuvered into orbit around a small asteroid in September.
Most asteroids two-thirds as long and wide — much less common, but capable of global devastation — have already been discovered. But “we know there are still some to be found,” Dr Fitzsimmons said.
Many, without a doubt, insinuate themselves about Mercury and Venus. But it is “incredibly difficult to detect objects in the inner orbit of the Earth with our telescopes,” said Dr. Thomas During most hours of the day, the sun blinds Earth’s telescopes and objects can only be hunted for a few minutes around dusk.
To overcome this limitation, the astronomers who detected 2022 AP7 in the Darkroom Energy relied on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter telescope in Chile. He is not only able to examine the vast expanses of the sky, but is also sensitive enough to detect the sun’s sunken fault. So far the camera has found two additional near-Earth objects: a killer planet the size of which never passes Earth’s orbit, but takes it closer to the Sun than any other known asteroid, with its surface at temperatures high enough to melt flaming lead; and a smaller, earth-killer-rock size without danger.
Twilight’s observation capabilities have finally been rounded up by NASA’s Near Earth Object mission. After launching this decade, this Earth-orbiting infrared observatory will sit in the sun’s glare and find many of the rare asteroids that other surveys have missed.
“We want to do everything so that you are not surprised,” Dr. Thomas said. That’s why these observations exist: Earth-impacting asteroids can find many lives in advance so that, through energy or nuclear explosions, we can send these monsters back into the shadows.
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