An amateur astronomer spotted a potentially dangerous asteroid toward Earth a few days before it flew.
If it had sunk into the Earth, the object would have caused global destruction. But it flew at a safe distance, 40 million kilometers or more than 100 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
Nevertheless, experts note that this is a reminder that relatively large objects can be easily missed as they make contact with the Earth, and repeatedly warn that planets without mass tracking cause unexpected collisions May be at risk from
The object – officially known as the Astroid 2020 QU6 – was first spotted by Leonardo Amaral on August 27 at the Campo dos Amaris Observatory in Brazil. It made a flying past closest to Earth on 10 September.
There is a host of advanced surveys to spot such objects before they get so close. But experts said the discovery is a reminder that those systems are not entirely reliable, and that many other interesting – and potentially dangerous – objects flying around may be waiting to be found.
“This finding reminds us that even though we have found the largest NEOs, we have not found all,” said Casey Dreyer, chief counsel and senior space policy adviser for The Planetary Society.
“We should support ground-based astronomers to protect the Earth now and in the future and invest in new space-based capabilities such as NEOSM.”
NASA has been tasked by the US Congress to find and track 90-percent of Earth’s objects, which are 140 meters or larger by 2020. But he has struggled to do so, amid appeals for more money: it has found only 40 percent for those items, and is not expected to achieve his goal for another 30 years.
The Planetary Society noted that most of the major asteroid-hunting projects are located in the Northern Hemisphere, meaning the world is at greater risk of missing people from the south of the equator. As such, projects such as Mr. Amaral are important in identifying asteroids that might otherwise be missed.
The object is just the latest asteroid to fly to Earth after being spotted relatively late on its approach. Such detection causes concern because they suggest that dangerous asteroids can arrive without detection – but this should be a cause of hope rather than concern, experts say.
“In the news, we hear more and more frequently about asteroid discoveries as we’re getting better at finding and tracking Earth’s asteroids,” Planetary Society chief scientist Bruce Bates said in a statement. “There aren’t suddenly more asteroids, we’re getting better at seeing them.”