Last week, a skyscraper-size asteroid flew close to the earth than the moon, leaving scientists unaware for two days. The asteroid with a size of a 20-story building zoomed past at a distance roughly a quarter of that between our planet and the moon.
This asteroid, now named 2023 NT1, measures approximately 200 feet wide (60 meters) and was hurtling at an estimated speed of 53,000 mph (86,000 km/h), as reported by NASA. What's remarkable is that astronomers only became aware of its presence two days after the close encounter.
The space rock, due to its approach from the direction of the sun, remained hidden from telescopic observation, as the sun's glare obstructed the view until after it had already passed by. It was on July 15 when a telescope in South Africa, part of the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) - an array of telescopes designed to detect asteroids days to weeks before potential impacts - finally spotted the asteroid as it was departing from our vicinity.
Subsequently, more than a dozen other telescopes confirmed its existence, according to the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center. Fortunately, there was no impact, but this event serves as a reminder of the need for continued vigilance in monitoring near-Earth objects for our planet's safety.
Asteroid 2023 NT1's surprise approach may have caught astronomers off guard, but fortunately, its size is not large enough to pose a threat as a potentially hazardous object. Extensive calculations of its trajectory for the next decade have shown no immediate risk of impact. Moreover, recent research indicates that Earth can rest easy from the danger of large, extinction-inducing asteroids for at least the next 1,000 years.
Nonetheless, the sun remains a known blind spot in the search for near-Earth asteroids, and 2023 NT1 is just one of several stealthy space rocks that have managed to slip past our detection. A similar incident occurred in 2013 when a 59-foot-long (18 m) asteroid traveled a comparable path through the sun's glare and went unnoticed until it exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The resulting shockwave caused damage to buildings and shattered glass over a wide area, leaving nearly 1,500 people injured but fortunately causing no fatalities.
While scientists diligently monitor over 31,000 known near-Earth asteroids, they are acutely aware of the risks posed by the solar blind spot. To address this issue, the European Space Agency is actively developing the NEOMIR mission.
This forthcoming satellite, expected to launch around 2030, will be positioned between Earth and the sun, aiming to detect large asteroids hidden within the bright radiance of our star. Through such efforts, we aim to bolster our ability to safeguard our planet from potential celestial hazards.