‘Potentially dangerous’ 180-meter asteroid detected near Earth

Astronomers have made a revolutionary discovery by detecting a massive asteroid the size of a skyscraper near Earth. This discovery was made possible thanks to a new algorithm specially designed to detect the largest and most dangerous space rocks. The asteroid, officially named 2022 SF289, is about 600 feet (180 m) wide and is classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA). This means that in the event of a direct impact, it could cause widespread destruction on Earth. However, there is no immediate risk of a collision with this asteroid.

The discovery of asteroid 2022 SF289 came after it came close to Earth in September 2022, passing within 4.5 million miles (7.2 million kilometers) of our planet. Surprisingly, astronomers around the world were unable to detect the asteroid in telescope data due to its camouflage by the light of Milky Way stars. And only recently, during the testing of a new algorithm designed to identify large asteroids from limited data, researchers have finally discovered the existence of this elusive space rock.

The algorithm, dubbed HelioLinc3D, successfully detected a PHA that had gone undetected using traditional detection methods. This breakthrough validates the algorithm’s capabilities and paves the way for its implementation at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory. The observatory, located in the mountains of Chile, is scheduled to begin its asteroid-finding work in early 2025.

Mario Jurich, director of the Institute for Data Intensive Research in Astrophysics and Cosmology at the University of Washington and leader of the algorithm development team, expressed his excitement about the Rubin Observatory’s prospects. He stated, “This is just a small fraction of what we can expect to see at Rubin Observatory in less than two years, when [the] HelioLinc3D algorithm will be detecting similar objects every night.”

To test the algorithm, the scientists used archived data from the Earth-impact asteroid survey conducted by the Last Warning Asteroid Survey (ATLAS) in Hawaii. ATLAS takes multiple images of the same area of the sky each night. While analyzing the data, the algorithm detected a large asteroid that was not seen by ATLAS. The asteroid was visible in three separate images of the sky taken on September 19, 2022 and the following three nights. However, because it did not meet the ATLAS requirement of appearing in four separate images on the same night, its existence remained unknown.

Unlike ATLAS, which relies on extensive data, the HelioLinc3D algorithm can identify asteroids with less information. The Rubin Observatory, for which the algorithm was specifically designed, will scan the sky twice a night, but with higher accuracy than other observatories. The team behind the algorithm believes that 2022 SF289 is just the beginning and that there are potentially thousands of hidden PHAs orbiting our planet waiting to be discovered.

The discovery of this skyscraper-sized asteroid serves as a reminder of the importance of advanced detection techniques and ongoing efforts to monitor near-Earth objects. With the new algorithm and the observatory being built, scientists will be better able to identify potential threats and further our understanding of these celestial bodies.

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