As our planet hurtles its way through the cosmos, it is bombarded daily with celestial debris. Some of these bits of rock and ice are large enough to create dazzling light shows of fireballs and meteors, flashing across the night sky as they burn up within our atmosphere. Some even break through this protective layer of compressed gasses and impact our planet, but only on rare occasions.
Lurking out there in the cosmos, however, are space stones large enough to end life on this planet as we know it, and scientists have recently discovered just such an asteroid that was formerly obscured by the glare of the sun.
Astronomers have discovered, hiding in the sun’s glare, a “planet killer” asteroid that could potentially one day hit Earth.Advertisement - story continues below
The asteroid, called 2022 AP7, was among three new near-Earth asteroids (NEAs), hiding in the inner solar system, the region within the orbits of Earth and Venus. Astronomers have a particularly tough time finding asteroids in this region because of the intense glare of the sun. Still, they managed to find a trio of NEAs because of the more favorable conditions during a brief window of twilight.
Here is where it gets worrisome:
“Our twilight survey is scouring the area within the orbits of Earth and Venus for asteroids,” said Scott S. Sheppard, an astronomer at the Earth and Planets Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution for Science and the lead author of the paper describing this work.
“So far we have found two large near-Earth asteroids that are about 1 kilometer across, a size that we call ‘planet killers,’” he said.Advertisement - story continues below
Sheppard noted that there are likely only a few NEAs of similar size left to find, and that they have orbits that would impact the Earth.
The study wasn’t able to pinpoint when this worrisome asteroid could strike the planet, but the alarming discovery is sure to be the focus of intense study moving forward.