(ORDO NEWS) — Astronomers have discovered a giant asteroid lurking in the sun’s glare that could one day cross Earth.
The 0.9 mile (1.5 kilometer) wide asteroid is the largest potentially hazardous asteroid discovered in the past eight years and has been dubbed the “planet killer” by astronomers as the effects of its impact will be felt across several continents.
The asteroid, named 2022 AP7, went unnoticed for so long because it orbits in the region between Earth and Venus.
To detect space rocks in this area, astronomers have to look in the direction of the Sun, which is notoriously difficult due to the solar luminosity.
For example, flagship telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope never look at the sun, as the star’s brightness fries their sensitive optics.
Because of this, astronomers have only a limited understanding of the nature of the asteroids lurking in this region, and surprises occasionally occur.
In 2013, a much smaller asteroid, only 66 feet (20 m) wide, came in from the direction of the Sun with absolutely no warning.
This asteroid exploded over the city of Chelyabinsk in southeastern Russia, shattering windows in thousands of buildings.
“To date, only about 25 asteroids have been discovered with orbits that perfectly coincide with the orbit of the Earth, due to the difficulty of observing near the blinding Sun,” Scott S.
Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institute for Science Laboratory of Earth and Planets and lead author, said in a statement. article describing a new discovery.
The discovery of 2022 AP7, which in the event of a collision with the Earth will cause much more damage than Chelyabinsk, was only possible thanks to the ultra-sensitive Dark Energy Camera (DEC) of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, which scans the sky at twilight, when these asteroids can be detected for two 10-minute periods each day.
So far, we’ve detected two large near-Earth asteroids about 1 kilometer [0.6 miles] across, which we call “planet killers,” Sheppard said.
Because inner solar system asteroids are so difficult to detect, they are underrepresented in models of the general population of solar system space rocks.
However, Sheppard believes that only a few unknown “planet killers” remain in this hard-to-observe region.
The good news is that most of these unknown asteroids are most likely in orbits that allow them to safely move away from Earth.
“Most likely, there are only a few [near-Earth asteroids] left to be found with similar sizes, and these large undiscovered asteroids are likely to have orbits that are inside the orbits of Earth and Venus most of the time,” Sheppard said.
In addition to the potentially dangerous 2022 AP7, astronomers have discovered two other small space rocks during DEC observations, one of which is closest to the Sun.
Due to its proximity to a star at the center of the solar system, this asteroid, named 2021 PH27, experiences the largest general relativity effect of any object in the solar system, scientists said in a statement.
According to Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, massive objects bend spacetime, which can affect the motion of other objects in their vicinity.
These effects, which are very small, can be observed as disturbances in the orbits of planets and asteroids that cannot be explained by Newtonian physics.
Fortunately, both 2021 PH27 and a third asteroid, named 2021 LJ4, are in orbits that do not intersect with Earth’s.
Astronomers are currently tracking more than 2,200 potentially dangerous asteroids – space rocks that orbit perilously close to Earth and are more than 0.6 miles [1 km] wide.
Such asteroids are of the greatest concern as they could cause widespread destruction, potentially affecting the entire planet.
However, even much smaller asteroids can cause a lot of trouble if they hit densely populated areas. For example, an asteroid just 50 meters wide would wreak havoc across London if it exploded over its center.
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