In a study to be published in the February issue of the scientific journal Icarus, astronomers reveal a “blind zone” in our sky in which potentially dangerous asteroids can “sneak” towards Earth without being detected in advance.
NASA-funded scientists have discovered that space objects approaching across the eastern region of the night sky can appear stationary due to a quirk associated with Earth’s rotation and translational motion.
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This means that they are not detected in advance by the network of telescopes designed to look for such threats.
According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, the research began after the astronomical community became concerned when asteroid 2019 OK skimmed past Earth in July 2019. With approximately 100 m in diameter, the space rock passed our planet at just 70,000 km from Earth. distance. And even worse, it was only detected 24 hours earlier.
The British newspaper recalls that the US Congress gave NASA the task of identifying 90% of asteroids of 140 m in diameter or more, a size that could cause devastation in a large city or small state.
The new study coincides with the theme portrayed by the movie Don’t Look Up, just released by the Netflix platform, which features Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as scientists trying to alert the unreceptive public about a comet that is on a collision course with Earth.
Cited by The Telegraph, researcher Richard Wainscoat, from the University of Hawaii (USA), who led the study, says that people “should not lose sleep” due to the possibility of being hit by a devastating asteroid. “In case we find something that is going to hit Earth, we will do something about it. It’s not a matter of finding and sitting around waiting to hit”, says the scientist.
The algorithms (programming codes) that control observation telescopes looking for asteroids are programmed to signal moving objects, to avoid misidentifying phenomena such as supernovas (explosion of a star).
This takes into account the fact that objects approaching Earth appear to move westward in the sky because of the Earth’s rotation, which is eastward with respect to its axis, explains the British newspaper.
However, when asteroids approach Earth from the eastern side, the planet’s rotation and its curved orbit around the Sun can make objects appear stationary, according to the scientists.
The study claims that 50% of dangerous space objects approaching Earth from the east may experience periods of “slow motion” and thus make early detection difficult.
Were it not for this phenomenon, asteroids the size of 2019 OK would be detectable up to four weeks before the supposed impact.
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