Possible 'Planet Killer' Asteroid Found in Earth's Orbital Path

Future generations will want to keep an eye on it
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 31, 2022 2:59 PM CDT
Astronomers Found a Massive Asteroid in Earth's Orbital Path
Stock image shows an artist's rendition of a giant asteroid.   (Getty - Piotrekswat)

Astronomers have discovered a new asteroid in our neighborhood: it's more than a mile wide, and its orbit around the sun crosses the Earth’s path, making it a potential "planet killer," according to a New York Times report on the rock known as 2022 APY. Not to worry, though, because it won’t pose a threat for "many generations," possibly even thousands of years. Astronomer Scott Sheppard, author of a paper published Monday in the Astronomical Journal, wrote in a press release that it’s "the largest potentially hazardous asteroid found in the last eight years or so." He also noted that the massive asteroid would "cause planetwide destruction" if it ever hit Earth, per the Times.

2002 APY is one of three asteroids discovered recently in the region between Earth and Venus, an area that is "notoriously difficult” to explore due to the sun’s luminosity, which can "fry" the optics of telescopes like the Hubble and Webb, according to Space.com. To spot the asteroids, Sheppard borrowed the Dark Energy Camera, which is mounted on the Victor M. Blanco telescope in Chile and is sensitive enough to spot objects in the sun’s glare. The other two asteroids pose no risk to Earth, but one of them—also of planet-killer size—is closer to the sun than any other known asteroid.

Right now, 2002 APY’s orbit brings it as close as 4.4 million miles from Earth, within the range astronomers consider potentially hazardous because its path will change over time, as happens with all objects governed by gravitational pull. The discovery also suggests there are other undetected rocks lurking in the sun’s glare. That’s one reason NASA is developing the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor, an infrared telescope scheduled for launch in 2026. It’s also why the agency conducted its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) in September, successfully hurtling a spacecraft into a distant asteroid to prove whether or not science can possibly save earthlings from a mass extinction event someday. (More asteroid stories.)

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