An amateur astronomer spotted a potentially dangerous asteroid headed for Earth just days before it passed us.
The object would have created global devastation if it had crashed to Earth. But it passed at a safe distance, at a distance of 40 million kilometers or more than 100 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
However, experts noted that it’s a reminder that relatively large objects could easily be lost as they approach Earth and repeated warnings that without large-scale monitoring the planet could be at risk of unexpected collisions.
The object ̵
There are a number of advanced investigations designed to locate such objects before they get that close. But experts said the discovery is a reminder that those systems aren’t entirely reliable and that there could be many other interesting and potentially dangerous objects flying around waiting to be found.
“This discovery reminds us that while we found most of the large NEOs, we didn’t find them all,” said Casey Dreier, chief advocate and senior advisor for space policy for The Planetary Society, in a statement.
“We must continue to support terrestrial astronomers and invest in new space capabilities such as NEOSM to protect the Earth now and in the future.”
NASA was tasked by the US Congress to find and track 90% of near-Earth objects that are 140 meters or larger by 2020. But it struggled to do so, amid calls for more funding: it found only the 40% of those objects and is not expected to reach its goal for another 30 years.
The Planetary Society noted that most major asteroid hunting projects are based in the Northern Hemisphere, meaning the world is most at risk of losing those approaching south of the equator. As such, projects such as Mr Amaral’s are critical for identifying asteroids that could otherwise be lost.
The object is only the latest asteroid to fly over Earth after being spotted relatively late on its approach. Such detections are of concern because they suggest that dangerous asteroids could arrive undetected, but the discovery should be cause for hope rather than concern, one expert said.
“In the news, we hear more and more about asteroid discoveries mainly because we are getting better at finding and tracking asteroids close to Earth,” Bruce Betts, Chief Scientist of the Planetary Society, said in a statement. “Suddenly there are no more asteroids, we’re just getting better at seeing them.”