Hidden 180-metre 'potentially dangerous asteroid' is discovered near Earth
The HelioLinc3D computer algorithm, which is supposed to detect celestial bodies that are potentially dangerous to the Earth, has spotted a skyscraper-sized asteroid that is hidden from astronomers despite its proximity to the planet. The space rock, more than 180 metres wide, is potentially dangerous to humans.
The discovery was reported by LiveScience, citing a statement from scientists. The asteroid was named 2022 SF289. It is large and orbits close enough to the Earth for scientists to recognise that it could pose a danger to the planet. But there is no need to panic, as it is only one of about 2,300 similar objects that could cause widespread destruction on Earth if a direct collision occurs.
However, according to NASA's calculations, a collision is unlikely to occur. The asteroid passed the closest point to Earth in September 2022, when it flew at a distance of about 7.2 million kilometres from the planet.
Interestingly, despite such a close flyby, it was not noticed by any of the Earth's astronomers because it was hiding in the light of the Milky Way.
Now, during the test of the new algorithm, the asteroid was detected.
The very fact that the algorithm was able to spot something that trained astronomers did not, according to scientists, is a huge confirmation of the effectiveness of such a system.
The algorithm managed to "catch" the first potentially dangerous asteroid while studying the archived data of the Asteroid Impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) in Hawaii. This system takes at least four photos of the same area of the sky every night. Despite this vigilance, ATLAS missed a large asteroid visible in three separate images of the sky taken on 19 September 2022, as well as over the three nights that followed.
The asteroid was "ignored" because ATLAS only identifies an object as an asteroid when it appears in four separate images taken on the same night. Since 2022 SF289 did not meet this criterion, the world might not have known about its approach.
At the same time, the HelioLinc3D algorithm is capable of detecting asteroids based on much less data.
More discoveries are likely to be made in the near future, as the algorithm is now being used to analyse data collected by the Rubin Observatory, a state-of-the-art telescope in the Chilean mountains. From the beginning of 2025, this telescope will be used for asteroid hunting.
According to the researchers, the Rubin Observatory, for which the algorithm was developed, scans the sky only twice a night, although with much greater detail than most modern observatories.
The team is confident that 2022 SF289 is just the tip of the asteroid iceberg for Rubin and the new algorithm. There could be thousands of hidden potentially dangerous asteroids circling our planet, waiting to be discovered.
"From HelioLinc3D to artificial intelligence codes, the next decade of discovery will be a story of algorithm development as much as it will be a story of new, big telescopes. This is just a small fraction of what we can expect from Rubin Observatory in less than two years, when HelioLinc3D will discover similar objects every night," said Mario Juric, director of the Institute for Intensive Research in Astrophysics and Cosmology at the University of Washington and leader of the team behind the new algorithm.
Earlier, OBOZREVATEL reported that scientists had discovered "planet-killing" asteroids hiding in the sun's glow.