Last January, astronomers experienced an anguish similar to that of the movie “Don’t look up”: they discovered a huge asteroid that would hit our planet on July 4, 2023. New calculations ruled out that eventuality, but there would have been no time to avoid the impact.
We can look up: a huge asteroid suddenly discovered in January, called 2022 AE1, which astronomers calculated would crash into Earth in July 2023, actually poses no threat, at least for a century.
The scenario described in the movie “Don’t look up”, which tells what happens on Earth when there is a sudden threat of collision with a large asteroid, at the moment does not reflect any real planetary situation.
Astronomers have corrected its trajectory to such an extent that the asteroid has been removed from the list of risks constantly updated by the European Space Agency’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Center (NEOCC).
“In January of this year, we discovered an asteroid with the highest rank on the Palermo scale that we have seen in over a decade. In my almost ten years at ESA, I have never seen such a dangerous object,” said Marco Micheli, astronomer at ESA’s NEOCC.
“It was exciting to track 2022 AE1 and refine its trajectory until we had enough data to say with certainty that this asteroid will not impact our planet.”
NEOCC marked asteroid 2022 AE1 as dangerous just one day after its discovery. Initial observations showed that a potential impact on Earth would occur on July 4, 2023.
The worst thing was that its proximity didn’t provide the necessary time to try to deflect it, and that it was big enough to cause real damage in a local area, should it crash.
The chance of impact seemed to increase based on the first seven days of observations, followed by a week “in the dark,” which occurred when the full Moon outshone the asteroid, ruling out further observations.
However, as the Moon moved to one side, the skies darkened and NEOCC took another look: that’s when it discovered that the chance of impact was diminishing and eventually disappeared.
Hazard cleared in 100 years
Since then, it has been confirmed that 2022 AE1 will not impact Earth for the next 100 years, and for this reason it was removed from the ESA risk list.
Every day, the system calculates the orbits of the asteroids and scores them on the Palermo scale, immediately publishing the results on the NEOCC website.
The Palermo scale classifies and prioritizes risks from near-Earth objects (NEOs) by combining potential impact date, impact energy, and impact probability.
There are asteroids that will certainly hit Earth, but they are so small that they are almost unnoticeable as they burn up in our atmosphere.
Others could be giant asteroids, capable of triggering mass extinction, but traveling in orbits around the Sun that are completely safe for us.
NEOCC currently has 28,362 near-Earth asteroids on record, of which 1,345 are on the risk list because they show a non-zero impact probability.
Five of them are on the 2022 list, one of which has a diameter of 300 meters. Discovered in 2006, it will be close to our planet on July 14, although it is not on the NEOCC priority list.
Values below -2 on the Palermo Scale reflect events without probable consequences; those between -2 and 0 indicate situations that represent careful monitoring, and positive values generally indicate situations that show some level of concern.
Every day, the system automatically calculates orbits from asteroid observation data provided by telescopes and observatories around the world. It then calculates the Palermo Scale values and immediately publishes the results on the NEOCC web portal.
The most dangerous cases, when the asteroids are classified as -2 or higher on the Palermo Scale, are first compared with NASA’s JPL analysis, to be more certain of the calculations before they are published on the public page.
“I was surprised at first when I heard about this asteroid as it is very rare to have such a high Palermo scale, initially rated at -1.5. However, I was not too worried, as we receive notifications like this, albeit at a lower level, a few times a year”, explains Luca Conversi, manager of NEOCC.
“As is customary in these cases, we activated our global network of telescopes to immediately obtain more observations and it soon appeared that this asteroid was unlike any other we had seen.”