Astronomers lose track of nearly 900 asteroids - and they're close to Earth

Thursday, 17th May 2018, 09:05 am
Updated Thursday, 17th May 2018, 13:42 pm

Astronomers have lost track of nearly 900 near-Earth asteroids and they’ve no idea where they are.

In a report released earlier this month by astronomers at Massachusetts’ Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics’ International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, nearly a thousand near-Earth asteroids (NEA) were lost.

The study, led by Dr Peter Vereš, identified 7,030 NEA between 2013 to 2016 – yet of the thousands initially spotted 11 per cent had gone missing, New Scientist reported.

After the initial sighting of the asteroids, their coordinates were lost meaning astronomers have no way of knowing whether or not they are on course to collide with Earth.

"Need to act fast"

Identifying and tracking near-earth objects is extremely difficult and astronomers need more than one sighting to plot a trajectory. “We need to act fast,” astronomer and report lead Dr Peter Vereš told New Scientist.

“Tomorrow, that object could be on the other side of the sky, and nobody really knows where it will be.”

Near-Earth asteroids come within a comfortably close distance of 30 million miles (48 million km) of Earth's orbit but, before a global panic sets in, Dr Vereš confirmed it is unlikely any of the lost asteroids would have a critical impact on Earth.

“We believe that the largest ones – planetary killers larger than one kilometer – those are basically all found,” the astronomer confirmed,” he said.

“I would say the danger is coming from objects we haven’t discovered yet.”