A recently discovered asteroid wider than a hockey rink that was initially projected to hit Earth next year actually won’t after all.
In January, the asteroid 2022 AE1 was discovered by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona. Not long after that, the European Space Agency noted the 230-foot-wide asteroid was on a collision course with Earth for July 2023.
Astronomers used the Palermo scale to determine the risk and potential effects of impact. On the scale, anything under -2 is not a threat, -2-to-0 is something worthy of monitoring and anything higher is of great concern.
Asteroid 2022 AE1 had reached a -0.66, according to Marco Micheli, an astronomer at the agency’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Center. Given its size, impact would “do real damage to a local area,” similar to the atomic bomb dropped in Hiroshima in 1945, according to Space.com.
What concerned astronomers was after they realized there was a probable impact, the asteroid disappeared off the telescope’s view because of the moon’s glow and the asteroid’s orbit leading it further away.
“In my almost 10 years at ESA I’ve never seen such a risky object,” Micheli said in a statement.
When the asteroid became visible a week later, astronomers were able to calculate it was a false alarm by following its orbit, and confirmed the asteroid would not hit Earth in 2023.
“The data was clear,” Laura Faggioli, near-Earth object dynamicist with the European Space Agency said. “Had 2022 AE1’s path remained uncertain we would have used any means possible to keep watching it with the biggest telescopes we have. As it was removed from our risk list, we didn’t need to follow it anymore – time to move on to the next.”
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According to NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies, 2022 AE1 will make its closest approach to Earth on July 1, 2023, when it will be around 5.7 million miles away.
Although the asteroid isn’t expected to hit our planet, astronomers had been concerned that there wasn’t enough time to prepare a defense system against it. In November, NASA launched the DART system, which will attempt to see if crashing into an asteroid could change its course in case one that could cause catastrophic results were to ever be headed towards Earth. The spacecraft is expected to hit the asteroid moon of Didymos in September.
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