Astronomers spot a small incoming asteroid and make a big breakthrough

Astronomers spot a small incoming asteroid and make a big breakthrough

humanity is improve a planetary defense – at least against external threats from outer space, as long as they’re just dumb rocks that follow the laws of physics. And a group of extraordinary humans proved it last week when the planetary defense community stepped in to accurately track and predict exactly where a relatively small meteor would land on November 19.

This meteor, now known as 2022 WJ1, was first noticed by the Catalina Sky Survey around midnight Eastern on that date (the time zone in which it ended up landing). Catalina is one of the most prolific discoverers of asteroids and is a crucial link in the chain of planetary defense. A NASA press release details the steps that follow and lead to a successful landing prediction.

The 2022 WJ1 was quite small, only about a meter wide, and posed no real threat to anyone or anything on the ground. But the Planetary Defense Network is designed to catch much larger potential threats. The fact that he reacted with such rapidity shows that he is becoming more and more capable and will be much more likely to find potentially devastating events, such as the Chelyabinsk meteor in 2013, which left 1,400 injured and an estimated 33 million dollars in property damage.

Door camera of 2022 WJ1 crossing the sky at 3:27 a.m. on November 19.

The Chelyabinsk meteor was 20 times the size of 2022 WJ1 and therefore would have been much easier to see if astronomers had the same resources as they do today. Browsing how 2022 WJ1 was tracked helps to understand just how much planetary sensing has improved.

After Catalina first detected the meteor, it immediately sent notice to the Minor Planet Center, a central data center for small bodies surrounding Earth. From there, the input was automatically retrieved by Scout, a program from the Center for Near Earth Object Studies, which attempted to assess the likelihood of 2022 WJ1 impacting Earth.

Its initial assessment, published 7 minutes after the asteroid’s initial discovery, showed a 25% chance of hitting Earth. That’s where the rest of the planetary defense community came in.

UT video on how we track asteroids

Catalina continued to track the asteroid throughout the night, but several other astronomers, including a group of amateurs from Farpoint Observatory in Eskridge, Kansas, just southwest of Topeka. More than 600 asteroids have been discovered there, so it’s another feather in their cap.

As the data continued to pour in, there were a total of 46 sightings made of WJ1 2022 within three hours of its initial discovery. The University of Hawai’i made the last sighting about half an hour before its expected impact.

At the scheduled time – 3:27 a.m. – and at the scheduled location – southern Ontario, Canada – a ball of fire lit up the sky and was captured on a myriad of door cameras and other recording devices, resulting in some pretty impressive videos. After the fact, many other astronomers spent time analyzing the asteroid’s path, even going so far as to come up with models that showed how Earth’s actual gravitational pull caused 2022 WJ1 to fall – or join the Earth’s largest biosphere, depending on how you look at it.

Fraser discusses the follow-up to 2022 WJ1.

As it caused no damage and there were no safety implications, it was a great exercise in finding potentially dangerous asteroids, and we seem to be improving. This sixth detection comes fourteen years after the first detection of 2008 TC3 but less than a year after the last detection of 2022 EB5 over the Nubian Desert earlier this year. This latest event dropped many meteorites across the desert, and there are likely a few from 2022 WJ1 scattered across southern Ontario. Now it’s up to meteor hunters to find them, as the planetary defense community has given them a great head start.

This article was originally published on Universe Today by ANDY TOMASWICK. Read the original article here.

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