An asteroid will graze Earth in September
After detecting a spacerock dubbed 2006 QV89, The European Space Agency (ESA) and ESO have confirmed it will NOT strike Earth!
2006 QV89 is a very small sized asteroid of a few meters across, part of the many rocky space debris within our solar system. It was discovered on August 29, 2006 by the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona and was seen for some days before disappearing from view due to its small size, and never reappearing again since 2006. Since ESA edited its ‘risk object list’, on which 2006 QV89 is written, a certain uproar has arisen among scientists and the population. However it’s important to note that there are many more, and that this precise rock was classified as ‘not hazardous’ and ‘not a priority’ by ESA to begin with.
Many asteroids temporarily appear in the risk list due to the uncertainty of their orbit. These types of uncertainties typically occur when an object has been discovered by observatories, and seen during a few nights after the discovery, afterwards becoming too faint to observe. 2006 QV89 is no exception and as a matter of fact, we don’t know as of yet its exact trajectory, which is probably what has scared people in recent years.
No news, good news…
While we do not know 2006 QV89’s trajectory exactly, we do know where it would appear in the sky if it were on a collision course with our planet. Therefore, we can simply observe this small area of the sky to check that the asteroid is indeed, hopefully, not there. This way, we have the chance to indirectly exclude any risk of an impact, even without actually seeing the asteroid. This is precisely what ESA and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) did on July 4 and 5, 2019, as part of the ongoing collaboration between the two organizations to observe high-risk asteroids using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). Teams obtained very ‘deep’ images of a small area in the sky, where the asteroid would have been located if it were on track to impact Earth in September. Nothing was seen!
2006 QV89 has been classified in the ‘Apollo’ category or ‘Earth-crossing’, of which we have discovered 20,000 individuals as of now. Because of their unsynchronized orbit around the Sun according to the Earth’s, they can potentially intersect. However NASA even recently confirmed thanks to calculations that 2006 QV89 will not even have a very close approach to our beloved home planet in September 2019. Even if it did strike Earth though, an object that size would likely disintegrate almost entirely, leaving what has been described as a ‘Splosh in the Pacific’.
According to ESA, asteroid 2006 QV89 will have a magnitude of +21.9 in September 2019, so in other words, undetectable with the naked eye. The rock will be so faint that it not even be visible with most telescopes, expect for a few huge, observatory-type instruments. In conclusion, even though you might have seen numerous recent articles in the press hyping an imminent strike by this asteroid leading to allegedly catastrophic consequences, don’t pay attention to them. You’re safe!
Protecting our planet
Image via NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.
Astronomers and other scientists are practicing with every close pass of an asteroid, in order to better prepare for a real scenario of any dangerous close approach on the future. What’s more, NASA is going to practice deflecting an asteroid from its path. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART mission) is a planned space probe that will demonstrate the effects of crashing an impactor spacecraft into an asteroid moon for planetary defense purposes. It will launch in June 2021 and will try to impact a 525-foot (160-meter) moonlet in the binary asteroid Didymos. The intentional impact should occur sometime in September 2022.