In a significant development, scientists working at the European Space Agency (ESA), along with researchers from European Southern Observatory (ESO), recently removed an asteroid from the risk zone, which had the real chance to impact the earth on April 2, 2052. The asteroid named “2021 QM1” was at the top of the risk lists.
According to reports, the observations included a study on “the faintest asteroid ever observed” with one of the finest telescope.
Importantly, it was on August 28, 2021 that ‘2021 QM1’ was first discovered by the Mount Lemmon Observatory in Arizona. While it was nothing special initially, since nearly a dozen asteroids are discovered every dark night, soon scientists around the world started getting worried after research on it.
Issuing a statement, Richard Moissl, ESA’s Head of Planetary Defence, said, “These early observations gave us more information about the asteroid’s path, which we then projected into the future. We could see its future path around the Sun, and in 2052 it could come dangerously close to Earth. The more the asteroid was observed, the greater that risk became.”
It is important to note here that orbit calculations that are based on a few nights of observations often come with uncertainties. It is because of this reason that asteroids are often listed in ESA’s risk list right after their discovery only to be removed after some time. More often than not, uncertainties are removed once more data is gathered and asteroids are proved to be safe. The same wasn’t possible with “2021 QM1” Asteroid.
Significantly, just when the risk of the asteroid was increasing, there was a cosmic alignment which affected the observation. In fact, the asteroid’s path brought it near the sun due to which it was impossible to see because of the sun’s brightness.
“We just had to wait. But to cap things off, we knew that 2021 QM1 was also moving away from Earth in its current orbit – meaning by the time it passed out of the Sun’s glare, it could be too faint to detect,”said Marco Micheli, Astronomer at ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre (NEOCC), in a press statement.
The ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), which was located in Chile, was ready to observe. It would focus on the disappearing 50-metre asteroid as soon as it comes out of the sunlight whenever the weather conditions permit.
Soon the researchers confirmed that this was the astrid they were looking for. It was this new observations that helped in refining the path of the risky asteroid, helped in ruling out an impact in 2052, and ‘2021 QM1’ was removed from the risk list of ESA.