This week was Asteroid Day, the annual event about the risks of asteroid impacts to Earth, but the European Space Agency marked the event with good news: the asteroid 2021 QM1, listed as one of the most threatening to our planet, will not still touch the earth. First sighted last year, the asteroid was thought to hit the planet in April 2052, but recent analysis shows it will pass us safely.
Asteroid 2021 QM1 was first observed in August 2021 by the Mount Lemmon Observatory and its presence was confirmed by several follow-up observations from other telescopes. But the more telescopes observed the rock, the more worrisome it seemed.
“These early observations gave us more information about the asteroid’s path, which we then projected into the future,” said Richard Moissl, ESA’s head of planetary defense, in a statement. pronunciation† “We could see its future paths around the sun and it could get dangerously close to Earth by 2052. The more the asteroid was observed, the greater that risk became.”
There was another concern. Not only did a future collision seem possible, but the asteroid came close to the sun in the final months of 2021 — and the sun’s brightness made it impossible to see the asteroid again for months. The asteroid swung away from Earth, so astronomers had to move quickly to observe it once it disappeared from the sun’s glare, but before it was too far away to detect again.
Astronomers got ready to observe it with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and were able to observe the asteroid again in May 2022.
“We had a short time to spot our risky asteroid,” Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer at ESO, explained in the statement. “To make matters worse, it went through part of the sky with the Milky Way just behind it. Our small, faint, receding asteroid should be found against a backdrop of thousands of stars. These would turn out to be some of the trickiest asteroid sightings we’ve ever done.”
In fact, the 2021 observations made QM1 the faintest asteroid ever observed. But with the new data, the researchers can get a more accurate picture of the asteroid’s orbit and confirm that it won’t hit Earth.
That’s good news for humanity and the asteroid has been removed from ESA’s risk list. The less good news? There are 1,377 other asteroids on the list, so we may still need them planetary defense systems sometime in the future.