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El asteroide más peligroso conocido por la humanidad en el último año no chocará contra la Tierra hasta dentro de al menos 100 años

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El asteroide ‘2021 QM1’ ha sido eliminado oficialmente de la lista de riesgo de asteroides de la ESA. Quedan otros 1.377 asteroides. (Impresión artística de un asteroide acercándose a la Tierra).

Impacto en 2052 descartado mientras la Agencia Espacial Europea (ESA) cuenta regresivamente para el Día del Asteroide

Justo a tiempo para el Día Mundial del Asteroide: una roca espacial amenazante ha permanecido en la cima de las listas de peligros en todo el mundo durante meses, con una posibilidad real de impactar contra la Tierra el 2 de abril de 2052. Ahora, el equipo de asteroides de la ESA trabaja con expertos del Observatorio ([{» attribute=»»>ESO) has officially removed ‘2021 QM1’ from their asteroid risk list, a result of skilled observations and analysis of the faintest asteroid ever observed with one of the most sensitive telescopes ever constructed.

With Asteroid Day Live 2022 set for June 30, we can safely say that the riskiest asteroid known to humankind in the last year will not impact the Earth – at least not for the next century.

What was it like to track this asteroid? Get the full story in ESA’s fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how European experts handle asteroid risks in the official countdown to Asteroid Day live on June 30, airing at 10:25 CEST on AsteroidDay.org and via ESA WebTV.

Stars Hide Once-Risky Asteroid 2021 QM1

Asteroid 2021 QM1, once thought to have a chance of impacting Earth in 2052, was spotted passing through a region of the sky with the Milky Way just behind it. The small, faint, receding asteroid had to be found against a backdrop of thousands of stars, with red crosses indicating the path of the object. Credit: ESO/O. Hainaut

Impact 2052

2021 QM1 was first discovered on August 28, 2021, by the Mount Lemmon Observatory, located north of Tucson, Arizona. At the beginning, nothing stood out as unusual about the discovery – about a dozen new near-Earth asteroids are identified every dark night. Routine follow-up observations were subsequently acquired from telescopes around the globe, but these began to tell a more worrying story.

“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.

“We could see its future paths around the Sun, and in 2052 it could come dangerously close to Earth. The more the asteroid was observed, the greater that risk became.”

Es importante tener en cuenta que los cálculos de órbita basados ​​en solo unas pocas noches de observaciones están sujetos a cierta incertidumbre, razón por la cual los asteroides a menudo se agregan a la lista de riesgos de la ESA poco después de que se descubren y luego se eliminan una vez que se recopilan más datos. las incertidumbres disminuyen y se demuestra que el asteroide es seguro. En esta ocasión, esto no fue posible.

Alineación cósmica infeliz

Justo cuando el riesgo parecía aumentar, se produjo un alineamiento cósmico (im)perfecto: la trayectoria del asteroide lo acercó al Sol visto desde la Tierra, y durante meses se hizo imposible verlo debido al brillante resplandor de nuestro anfitrión. estrella.

Órbita del asteroide 2021 QM1

La órbita de 2021 QM1 a medida que pasa más cerca del Sol en el cielo, vista desde la Tierra, poco después del descubrimiento. Crédito: ESA

“Tuvimos que esperar”, explicó Marco Micheli, astrónomo del Centro de Coordinación de Objetos Cercanos a la Tierra (NEOCC) de la ESA.

«Pero para cerrar, sabíamos que 2021 QM1 también se estaba alejando de la Tierra en su órbita actual, lo que significa que cuando dejaba el resplandor del Sol, podría ser demasiado débil para detectarlo».

Mientras esperaban, se prepararon.

Acceso prioritario a uno de los telescopios más potentes de la Tierra

El Observatorio Europeo Austral Telescopio Muy Grande (VLT) estaba preparado y listo. Tan pronto como el asteroide de 50 metros se alejara de la luz solar, y si las condiciones climáticas lo permitieran, el VLT de ESO enfocaría su espejo de 8 metros en la roca que desaparece.

Espectacular puesta de luna detrás del Very Large Telescope de ESO

Espectacular puesta de luna detrás del Very Large Telescope (VLT) de ESO, Chile. Cuando se pone la Luna llena, el Sol está a punto de salir por el horizonte opuesto. El Very Large Telescope (VLT) ya cerró los ojos después de una larga noche de observaciones, y los operadores de telescopios y astrónomos duermen mientras los técnicos, ingenieros y astrónomos diurnos se despiertan para un nuevo día de trabajo. Las operaciones nunca se detienen en el observatorio astronómico terrestre más productivo del mundo. Crédito: G.Gillet/ESO

“Tuvimos una breve ventana para detectar nuestro peligroso asteroide”, explicó Olivier Hainaut, astrónomo de ESO.

“Para empeorar las cosas, estaba pasando por una región del cielo con el[{» attribute=»»>Milky Way just behind. Our small, faint, receding asteroid would have to be found against a backdrop of thousands of stars. These would turn out to be some of the trickiest asteroid observations we have ever made”.

Faintest asteroid ever observed

Over the night of May 24, ESO’s VLT took a series of new images. The data arrived and Olivier and Marco began to process them, stacking subsequent observations on top of each other and removing the background stars: it took some time.

VLT Asteroid 2021 QM1

ESO’s Very Large Telescope captures 2021 QM1 which for months topped risk lists around the globe. This pivotal sighting ruled out Earth impact in the year 2052. Over the night of May 24, the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope took a series of images of an asteroid that had topped risk lists around the globe for months. These images were some of the trickiest asteroid experts had taken, as the faint asteroid 2021 QM1 receded from view against a very starry backdrop. A series of images were processed, stacked on top of each other and stars were removed, revealing the faintest asteroid observed. Credit: ESA

The result? A positive detection of the faintest asteroid ever observed. With a magnitude of 27 on the scale used by astronomers to describe the brightness of objects in the sky, 2021 QM1 was 250 million times fainter than the faintest stars visible to the naked eye from a dark spot. (In this astronomical scale of visible magnitudes, the brighter an object appears the lower the value of its magnitude, while the brightest objects reach negative values, e.g. the Sun is magnitude -27).

Olivier was certain this small blur was in fact an asteroid, and Marco was certain that given its location, it was our asteroid.

Safe at last?

With these new observations, our risky asteroid’s path was refined, ruling out an impact in 2052, and 2021 QM1 was removed from ESA’s risk list. Another 1,377 remain.

Asteroids June 2022 With Gaia

The position of each asteroid at 12:00 CEST on June 13, 2022, is plotted. Each asteroid is a segment representing its motion over 10 days. Inner bodies move faster around the Sun (yellow circle at the center). Blue represents the inner part of the Solar System, where the Near Earth Asteroids, Mars crossers, and terrestrial planets are. The Main Belt, between Mars and Jupiter, is green. The two orange ‘clouds’ correspond to the Trojan asteroids of Jupiter. Credit: © ESA/Gaia/DPAC; CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO, Acknowledgments: P. Tanga (Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur)

More than one million asteroids have been discovered in the Solar System, almost 30 000 of which pass near Earth, with many more expected to be out there. ESA’s Planetary Defence Office, NEOCC and astronomers around the globe are looking up to keep us safe, working together to ensure we know well in advance if an asteroid is discovered on a collision course.

Watch Asteroid Day Live

How worried are the world’s asteroid experts? How did it feel to track humankind’s most risky asteroid? Get the full story in ESA’s 30-minute program counting down to Asteroid Day live on June 30, airing at 10:25 CEST on AsteroidDay.org and on ESA WebTV.

Tunguska Devastation

Fallen trees at Tunguska, Imperial Russia, seen in 1929, 15 km from epicenter of the aerial blast site, caused by the explosion of a meteor in 1908. Credit: Photo N. A. Setrukov, 1928

Asteroid Day is the United Nations-sanctioned day of public awareness of the risks of asteroid impacts, held annually on June 30. This year sees its return to Luxembourg for an in-person event following two years of living entirely in the virtual realm. Asteroid experts from ESA, from across Europe and worldwide will converge on the city to take part in a packed four-hour live program of panels and one-on-one interviews.

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