A Special Place for Blog Lovers with a Touch of Science!

Enjoy our special posts in the fields of Earth & Planetary Sciences (EPS Blog) and Social Sciences & Arts (SSA Blog)

A Special Place for Blog Lovers with a Touch of Science!

Largest potentially hazardous asteroid detected in 8 years

Credit: Getty images

Twilight observations spot 3 large near-Earth objects lurking in the inner solar system

Twilight observations with the Dark Energy Camera at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, a program of the U.S. National Science Foundation-supported NOIRLab, have enabled astronomers to spot three near-Earth asteroids, or NEAs, hiding in the glare of the sun. One is the largest object potentially hazardous to Earth to be discovered in the last eight years. The NEAs are part of an elusive population that lurks inside the orbits of Earth and Venus.

This is a notoriously challenging region for observations because asteroid hunters must contend with the glare of the sun. By taking advantage of the brief yet favorable observing conditions during twilight, however, the astronomers found an elusive trio of NEAs. The results are reported in The Astronomical Journal.

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How scientists are ‘looking’ inside asteroids

The shape of asteroids such as 243 Ida can reveal information about what they're made of, which can, in turn, tell us more about the formation of the solar system. Image credit - NASA/JPL/USGS

Asteroids - treasure troves of knowledge

Asteroids can pose a threat to life on Earth but are also a valuable source of resources to make fuel or water to aid deep space exploration. Devoid of geological and atmospheric processes, these space rocks provide a window onto the evolution of the solar system. But to really understand their secrets, scientists must know what's inside them.

Only four spacecraft have ever landed on an asteroid – most recently in October 2020 – but none has peered inside one. Yet understanding the internal structures of these cosmic rocks is crucial for answering key questions about, for example, the origins of our own planet.

'Asteroids are the only objects in our solar system that are more or less unchanged since the very beginning of the solar system's formation,' said Dr Fabio Ferrari, who studies asteroid dynamics at the University of Bern, Switzerland. 'If we know what's inside asteroids, we can understand a lot about how planets formed, how everything that we have in our solar system has formed and might evolve in the future.'

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How do we know if an asteroid headed our way is dangerous?

It is not uncommon for asteroids to hit Earth. In 2013, the Chelyabinsk meteor exploded over Russia, injuring hundreds. Image credit - Alex Alishevskikh, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The dangers of the Cosmos

There are a lot of things that pose a threat to our planet – climate change, natural disasters, and solar flares, for example. But one threat in particular often captures the public imagination, finding itself popularised in books and films and regularly generating alarming headlines: asteroids.

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