Astronomers have “lost track” of more than 900 near-Earth asteroids, according to a new study. The lost space rocks are bodies of varied sizes, detected punctually at some point but whose trajectories could not be followed. Therefore, now researchers have no idea where these objects may be, nor if any of them is on a course to Earth.
Astronomers have “lost track” of more than 900 near-Earth asteroids
Between 2013 and 2016, 17,030 new space objects were added to the growing list of Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) maintained by the Minor Planets Center of the International Astronomical Union.
However, 11% of those objects are classified as “unconfirmed”, which means that the few observations that were made on them were not enough to determine their orbits.
In other words, astronomers do not know where to look to relocate them.
To determine the trajectory of an asteroid and to have it, therefore, located at all times, it is necessary to observe it more than once in a period of a few hours. “We have to act fast,” says Veres from the Minor Planets Center. “Tomorrow, that object could already be on the other side of the sky and nobody will know where it is already,” he added.
There might be dangerous space rocks among the lost near-Earth asteroids
Unable to calculate their orbits, it is impossible to determine how close these rocks will pass to Earth in the future, nor how dangerous they could be for us. To better understand what we are facing, Veres and his team used the initial measurements of the brightness of these “lost asteroids” to estimate their sizes.
And it turns out that the largest of them is several kilometers in diameter, a size sufficient enough to cause a devastation on a planetary scale if it will hit the Earth.
According to Vere, those 900 lost asteroids can be a serious problem for the estimates of how many near-Earth asteroids there are in total.
“If the models do not take into account these unconfirmed objects,” says the researcher, “we can be underestimating the total population of near-Earth asteroids by 10 or 20 percent.”