The asteroid hunters are getting more efficient at their job. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), there are already a total of 30,039 near-Earth asteroids (NEOs) known to science, and the number continues to rise rapidly. General support for finding all the asteroids that could make Armageddon-like approaches a reality has skyrocketed. And it’s a very good thing.
NEOs ( near-Earth objects ) or near-Earth objects are rocky bodies that orbit the Sun and whose path brings them closer to Earth’s orbit. Some of these objects have the potential to hit our planet. In the last ten years alone, more than 15,000 have been discovered; It is quite a milestone, considering that the first NEO was identified in the 19th century. The increase in the rate of new near-Earth asteroids is staggering.
In that asteroid hunt, the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) is the most prolific tool, being responsible for about 47% of all discovered NEOs. In 2005 it found 310 new asteroids, while in 2019 it found 1067. The improvement is palpable.
Our detection capacity is improving every day
Named NEO to the asteroid whose trajectory brings it closer to 1.3 astronomical units (AU) from the sun . 1 astronomical unit is the distance between the sun and Earth, so NEOs can be within at least 0.3 AU, 45 million km, of our planet’s orbit. Currently, near-Earth asteroids, which reside mostly in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars, make up about a third of the million asteroids discovered so far in the solar system.
“The good news is that more than half of the currently known near-Earth asteroids were discovered in the last six years, showing how much our view of asteroids is improving,” said Richard Moissl, head of planetary defense at the ESA. “As this new milestone of 30,000 detections shows, and as new telescopes and detection methods are built, it is only a matter of time until we find them all.”
Many are at considerable distances
Of the 30,039 NEOs, there are an estimated 10,000 larger than 140 meters in diameter and 1,000 larger than 1 kilometer in diameter , highlighting the need to keep track of these space rocks.
Fortunately, experts can detect their position and whether they will reach Earth for hundreds of years.
“Of course, any asteroid discovered near Earth qualifies as a near-Earth asteroid, but many are far from home,” said Marco Micheli, an astronomer at ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre. “New objects are observed over time, their movements are studied and, with just a handful of data points from different nights, their future positions can be predicted. “Depending on the number and quality of observations, this may extend decades, even hundreds of years, into the future.”
Currently, none of the near-Earth asteroids discovered so far are cause for concern , for at least a hundred years.
However, even with our current technology, there is still a chance that we will miss one. But the team of planetary defenders (and asteroid hunters) employed by ESA stress that there is no immediate danger, and that we will have plenty of time to call in a mission like the recently successful DART to get any threatening asteroids out of the way before they cause trouble.
Referencia: European Space Agency