Astronomers spot ‘planet killer asteroid’: Is it a threat to Earth?

Three new asteroids have been discovered, one of which astronomers have said could have “a devastating impact on life as we know it” and could potentially lead to a “mass extinction event”. Here’s what we know about ‘2022 AP7’

A team of astronomers has discovered three massive near-Earth asteroids hiding in the glare of the Sun. Of these, one called 2022 AP7 is believed to be the largest planet killer-sized asteroid to be spotted in nearly a decade, and is “potentially hazardous” to Earth.

According to a study published in The Astronomical Journal, the three asteroids are from a group that is found within the orbits of Earth and Venus. However, they are tough to spot as the brightness of the Sun shields them from telescope observations.

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In an interview with CNN, the lead author of the study, Scott S Sheppard, an astronomer at the Earth and Planets Laboratory of the Carnegie Institute of Science in Washington DC, said an asteroid like 2022 AP7 could have “a devastating impact on life as we know it” and could potentially lead to a “mass extinction event”.

Since they were concealed by the Sun’s glare, the astronomers conducted their observation during twilight hours — a brief but favourable 10-minute window every night. They used a Dark Energy Camera at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

With the high-tech camera, a programme of the US’ National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) NOIRLAB, they were able to capture large swathes of the sky with immense sensitivity. The camera was originally built to carry out a Dark Energy Survey, conducted by the US Department of Energy and the NSF between 2013 and 2019.

Apart from dealing with the glare of the Sun, the astronomers also had to tackle another major issue — since the asteroids are close to the horizon, they are blurred and distorted by the Earth’s atmosphere.

Asteroids that are further away from the Sun are easier to detect.

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