An international team of astronomers has announced the discovery of an asteroid whose orbit intersects Earth’s orbit, creating a small chance of a catastrophic collision in the far future. This is reported by the Daily Sabah.
A 1.5 km (0.9 mi) wide asteroid named 2022 AP7 was discovered in an area notoriously difficult to detect due to bright sunlight. It was discovered along with two other near-Earth asteroids using a high-tech instrument at the Victor M. Blanco telescope in Chile, which was originally designed to study dark matter.
“2022 AP7 is crossing Earth’s orbit, making it a potentially dangerous asteroid, but it does not currently or in the future have a trajectory that would bring it into collision with Earth,” said lead author of the results, astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution of Science.
The potential threat comes from the fact that, like any object in orbit, its trajectory will slowly change due to the many gravitational forces, especially the planets. Therefore, forecasts for the very long term are difficult.
The newly discovered asteroid is “the largest object of potential danger to Earth discovered in the past eight years,” said NOIRLab, a US-funded research group that operates several observatories.
2022 AP7 takes five years to circle the Sun in its current orbit, which at its closest point to Earth is several million kilometers away.
So the risk is very small, but in the event of a collision, an asteroid of this size “would have a devastating effect on life as we know it,” Sheppard said.
He explained that the dust thrown into the air would have a strong cooling effect, triggering “an extinction event the like of which has not been seen on Earth for millions of years.”
His team’s results were published in The Astronomical Journal. The other two asteroids do not pose a threat to the Earth, but one of them is the closest asteroid ever found to the Sun.