A recently developed computer algorithm called HelioLinc3D has surprised astronomers by detecting a skyscraper-sized asteroid that went unnoticed despite its close proximity to Earth. The asteroid, named 2022 SF289, measures over 180 meters wide and poses a potential danger to our planet.
According to LiveScience, scientists have reported the discovery of this hidden space rock. Although it orbits close enough to Earth for scientists to recognize the threat it poses, there is no immediate cause for panic. 2022 SF289 is just one of approximately 2,300 similar objects that could potentially lead to widespread destruction if a direct collision were to occur.
However, NASA’s calculations show that a collision with this specific asteroid is unlikely. In September 2022, it passed the closest point to Earth at a distance of approximately 7.2 million kilometers from our planet.
What’s intriguing is that despite its close flyby, the celestial object went unnoticed by astronomers on Earth because it was hidden by the light of the Milky Way. However, the newly developed algorithm successfully detected it during a test.
The algorithm made its breakthrough discovery by analyzing archived data from the Asteroid Impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) in Hawaii. This system captures multiple photos of the same area of the sky every night. Surprisingly, ATLAS missed capturing the large, potentially dangerous asteroid in three separate images taken on September 19, 2022, as well as over the three following nights.
ATLAS only identifies an object as an asteroid when it appears in four separate images taken on the same night, which explains why this particular asteroid went ignored. In contrast, the HelioLinc3D algorithm can detect asteroids using far less data.
Excitingly, the algorithm is now being utilized to analyze data collected by the Rubin Observatory, a cutting-edge telescope located in the Chilean mountains. Starting from early 2025, this telescope will mainly be used for asteroid hunting.
Researchers are confident that 2022 SF289 is just the beginning of their asteroid discoveries using the Rubin Observatory and the new algorithm. They anticipate uncovering potentially thousands of hidden, dangerous asteroids orbiting near our planet.
Mario Juric, the director of the Institute for Intensive Research in Astrophysics and Cosmology at the University of Washington and leader of the team behind the algorithm, believes that the next decade will see a significant focus on algorithm development and the use of new, advanced telescopes like the Rubin Observatory. Juric asserts that the HelioLinc3D algorithm will continue to make similar discoveries every night once it starts operating with the Rubin Observatory in less than two years.
In conclusion, the recent detection of the skyscraper-sized asteroid 2022 SF289 showcases the growing effectiveness of computer algorithms like HelioLinc3D in identifying potentially dangerous celestial objects. With the emergence of advanced telescopes and innovative algorithms, scientists are poised to make more groundbreaking discoveries and ensure the safety of our planet.