Asteroid 2021 UA1 races closer to Earth than communications satellites in space – and NASA did not even know it was coming

An asteroid the size of a refrigerator has become the third-closest to approaching Earth without actually hitting the planet after running across the sky over Antarctica last week.

Asteroid 2021 UA1 came within 3,000 kilometers of Earth – which is longer than where the International Space Station orbits, but closer to our planet than a series of communications satellites.

And although it did not end up posing any danger to Earth, the space rock was not noticed until it had already flown past our planet.

2021 UA1 was impossible for astronomers to spot in advance because the asteroid was approaching behind the sun, a known blind spot for asteroid trackers.

With an estimated two meters in diameter, the asteroid would probably have burned up if it entered the atmosphere.

Currently, there are no known threats to Earth in the next century.

However, unknown Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) can lead to unforeseen influences, such as the Chelyabinsk event in Russia.

In 2013, an asteroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia.

In this image from February 15, 2013, taken from a video from a dashboard camera, a meteor is sweeping through the sky over Chelyabinsk, about 1,500 kilometers east of Moscow.
In this image from February 15, 2013, taken from a video from a dashboard camera, a meteor is sweeping through the sky over Chelyabinsk, about 1,500 kilometers east of Moscow. Credit: DG ** NY ** RCL ** DC **/AP

It exploded in the air, releasing 20 to 30 times more energy than the first atomic bombs, generating brightness greater than the sun, radiating heat, damaging more than 7,000 buildings, and injuring more than 1,000 people.

The shock wave shattered windows 100 kilometers away. It was undiscovered because the asteroid came from the same direction and path as the sun.

How is NASA trying to track asteroids in the blind spot?

A new space telescope that could spot and track potentially dangerous asteroids and comets on its way to Earth is one step closer to reality.

The NEO Surveyor was approved by NASA in June to move on to the design phase.

The six-meter-long infrared telescope would strengthen the planet’s defenses by helping astronomers find asteroids and comets coming within 48 million kilometers of Earth’s orbit.

The mission’s launch is currently scheduled for the first half of 2026.

The NEO Surveyor will have the ability to rapidly accelerate the speed at which NASA is able to detect asteroids and comets that could pose a danger to Earth, and it is being designed to detect 90 percent of asteroids that are 140 meters in size or larger within a decade of being launched, ”said Mike Kelley, NEO Surveyor Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters, in a statement.

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