On January 7, space scientists in Europe discovered a large asteroid that appeared to be on a collision course with Earth. They calculated that the 230-feet-wide asteroid, named 2022 AE1, was set to hit Earth on July 4, 2023. The time they had to deflect its path was too narrow to actually mount a response, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The prospect was frightening. Space defenders feared if the asteroid hit the Earth it would likely wipe out a city, causing destruction similar to what the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima in Japan did at the end of World War II. But a recalculation of the asteroid’s trajectory has revealed it will miss the Earth, the ESA added.
ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre (NEOCC) said that initial orbit calculations in the first week of the discovery indicated an increased collision risk. Their fear was validated by experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Then the asteroid disappeared from the astronomers’ view for a week because of the bright glow around the full moon.
When it re-emerged, fresh observations were made. These changed the calculations, proving that the asteroid would pass by Earth at a safe distance of 10 million kilometres, more than 20 times Earth-moon distance, the ESA said in a statement.
On the Palermo scale, which quantifies risks posed by near-Earth asteroids, the initial calculation showed “the highest-ranking” in more than a decade, said Marco Micheli, an astronomer at ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Center (NEOCC) in Italy.
Asteroids have hit Earth in the recent past, but they are usually smaller in size. In 2013, a meteorite about 66 feet in diameter exploded close to Earth’s surface over southern Russia. It injured nearly 1,500 people.
In November last year, NASA launched the DART mission to test whether it would be possible to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth off course. The spacecraft will hit a 525 feet-wide asteroid in September this year.