Asteroid news: ESA warns ‘TWO MILLION’ rogue space rocks remain undetected

Asteroid trackers at the ESA and their US counterparts NASA know the positions of approximately 95 percent of all Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) larger than 0.6 miles (1km) across. But there are still almost two million space rocks measuring less than 30 metres in size which remain undetected.

The importance of tracking asteroids concerns their ability to inflict a mass-extinction event, should any of them slam into our planet.

If an asteroid breaks into fragments, any part with dimensions larger than 100ft (35m) would not incinerate in the atmosphere and could cause widespread damage to the impact site.

Fortunately, there are no indications this will happen any time soon, and most asteroids of that size are being carefully monitored.

But asteroid experts estimate approximately a mere 18,000 of two million space rocks of 30-metres or less are currently being tracked.

This is because they are simply very hard to see, due to their relatively small size and dark colour.

This category of asteroids can consequently only become observable as they barrel close to Earth.

In fact, this summer saw a hitherto-unknown space rock passing our planet at a distance of 6 million miles (10 million km).

Although this may seem like a long way away, this is actually only 26 times the distance to the Moon.

Now known as 2020 OM3, that asteroid is thought to be 65ft (40m) across – dimensions which mirror that of the notorious Tunguska asteroid.

Tunguska famously exploded in Siberia in 1908, destroying 1,242 square miles (2,000 square km) of deserted forest.

ESA’s 1m telescope in Tenerife usually spends four nights per month peering into the skies on the lookout for fresh NEOs.

This telescope’s role is usually restricted to follow-up observations.

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The idea is to get a better understanding of asteroids following their discovery.

Experts need to learn the size and trajectory, along with calculating the possibility they are on a collision course with Earth.

ESA’s 1m Telescope works by focussing on a certain sections of the sky and images are taken four times over a 50 minute period.

Asteroid 2020 OM3, for example, was spotted as an almost imperceptible speck of light in four images.

This asteroid was all the harder to find, as it had travelled quite a distance in the four images, shown in the video at the top of this story.

The resulting animation is a time-lapse of the four pictures.

The tiny dots are faintly visible as they hurtle harmlessly in a straight line.

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