Scientists discover ‘planet-killer’ asteroid threatening Earth

An asteroid discovered by a group of American scientists is the largest potentially hazardous one found in over eight years

A giant asteroid could potentially cross paths with Earth, a group of American scientists has warned, adding that the one they recently discovered is the biggest detected in over eight years. Named 2022 AP7, the celestial body is 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) wide, the team revealed, adding that its potential impact would be felt across multiple continents.

“So far, we have found two large near-Earth asteroids that are about one kilometer across, a size that we call ‘planet killers’,” Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Earth and Planets Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution for Science and the leading author of a paper describing the discovery, said in a press release. But only 2022 AP7 has an orbit that makes it potentially dangerous for Earth, according to the scientists.

The ‘planet killer’ asteroid was hiding somewhere between Earth and Venus, making it difficult to detect. Astronomers have to look in the Sun’s direction to study this area, and state-of-the-art orbital telescopes like James Webb or Hubble cannot be used in such studies since the Sun’s glare would burn their sensitive optics.

“Only about 25 asteroids with orbits completely within Earth’s orbit have been discovered to date because of the difficulty of observing near the glare of the Sun,” Sheppard explained. In this particular case, the scientists made the discovery using the Dark Energy Camera of the Victor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

Although the inner solar system still remains largely a terra incognita when it comes to asteroids, scientists believe that this area contains few potential dangers for Earth.

“There are likely only a few [near Earth asteroids] with similar sizes left to find,” Sheppard said, adding that most of them likely have orbits that would never put them on a collision course with Earth. It is also unclear when, if ever, 2022 AP7 could pose an acute danger to Earth.

Yet, according to Space.com, astronomers already monitor as many as 2,200 potentially hazardous asteroids that are more than one kilometer wide. Such space rocks potentially pose a danger to the entire planet since even a 50-meter-wide asteroid could damage an entire city like London if it explodes over its center, the media outlet notes.

An asteroid called Apophis has an orbit that is dangerously close to Earth. Back in 2020, scientists warned that it could hit the planet in 2068. Later that same year, the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences said that the 370-meter-long space rock could come within the orbits of some of our communication satellites as early as in 2029.

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