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Scientists Discover “Planet Killing” Asteroid That Could Hit Earth Someday

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One day in the distant future there may be another asteroid that crashes into Earth, causing an extinction-level event similar to the incident that rendered dinosaurs extinct. In fact, scientists may already have found the subject that could cause such destruction. Monday, an international team using equipment at Chile’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory revealed it managed to find three near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) shielded by the Sun’s cosmic rays as they lurked in the inner Solar System. Because of the asteroid’s proximity to the Sun, it’s been difficult getting an accurate accounting until now.

Two of the three asteroids are big enough to be what one researcher says could be planet killers. “Our twilight survey is scouring the area within the orbits of Earth and Venus for asteroids,” Carnegie astronomer Scott S. Sheppard wrote in a paper explaining the findings. “So far we have found two large near-Earth asteroids that are about 1 kilometer across, a size that we call planet killers.”

“There are likely only a few NEAs with similar sizes left to find, and these large undiscovered asteroids likely have orbits that keep them interior to the orbits of Earth and Venus most of the time,” he continued. “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.”

As scientists can use current technology to detect any potential collision threats for centuries at a time, none of the asteroids pose an immediate threat to the planet. That said, Sheppard says the discovery is a key progression in finding similar NEAs that could pose a substantial threat much sooner.

“Our DECam survey is one of the largest and most sensitive searches ever performed for objects within Earth’s orbit and near to Venus’s orbit,” Sheppard concluded. “This is a unique chance to understand what types of objects are lurking in the inner Solar System.”

For what it’s worth, NASA successfully completed its first-ever Asteroid Redirection Test earlier this fall, smashing a satellite into an asteroid to alter its trajectory. The test in question shortened one asteroid’s orbit by a whopping 73 seconds more than 25 times the goal set by NASA researchers belonging to the mission. 

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