Destroyed observatory issues final asteroid warning

(ORDO NEWS) — After falling to pieces in December 2020, the powerful Arecibo observatory left humanity with a last parting gift.

Using data collected by Arecibo between December 2017 and December 2019, scientists have published the largest asteroid radar report yet.

Fortunately, none of these newly described asteroids pose an immediate threat to Earth. According to NASA, our planet is safe from deadly asteroid impacts for at least the next 100 years.

The report, published Sept. 22 in the journal Planetary Science, includes detailed observations of 191 near-Earth asteroids, including nearly 70 that are considered “potentially hazardous,” that is, large asteroids with orbits that bring them closer to Earth at a distance of 7.5 million kilometers, or about 20 times greater than that of the Earth.

However, scientists still pay close attention to such objects approaching Earth in case their trajectories accidentally change, for example, due to another asteroid impact, which will send the asteroid towards Earth.

The new report also flags several asteroids that astronomers should watch out for, including a strange cosmic object called 2017 YE5, an ultra-rare double asteroid made up of two rocks of almost the same size orbiting each other. The diameter of each of the stones is estimated to be between 800 and 900 meters.

The asteroid’s high reflectivity to radar could indicate an abundance of water ice below its surface, possibly making it a previously unseen class of near-Earth icy asteroids, the researchers write.

With this new treasure trove of data, scientists can better measure the shape, size and rotation periods of these asteroids, which are important indicators for assessing the potential risks that asteroids could pose to our planet, said study lead author Ann Wirkki of the University of Helsinki in Finland.

“The amount of valuable data collected is unique, and these results could not be achieved at any other existing site,” added study co-author Flavian Venditti.

The world’s largest observatory, Arecibo, was built in Puerto Rico in 1963. His 305 meter wide telescope dish became world famous in the 1990s after being featured in several films.

By that time, the observatory was already known in the scientific community for having transmitted the first message of mankind to aliens in space in 1974.

Arecibo’s operations came to an abrupt halt in December 2020 after two critical support cables snapped, causing the telescope to collapse completely.

In October 2022, the National Science Foundation, which owns the site where Arecibo was built, announced that the telescope would not be replaced or repaired.

Researchers are still analyzing the backlog of data from Arecibo, the team noted, so the world’s most famous dead telescope could still bring us more scientific gifts in the coming years.


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