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There Could Be Thousands Of Unconfirmed Near-Earth Objects According To Scientists

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A group of scientists has called the attention of concerned parties to the compelling need for rapidly submitting detection reports about near-earth objects that potentially threaten collisions.

Near-Earth objects or NEOs are small solar system bodies, asteroids, or comets with orbits that could sometimes bring them closer to Earth.

The team analyzed data on NEOs from 2013 to 2016 and concluded that the actual number of unconfirmed and still-undetected NEOs is much larger than what has been recorded to date. In fact, there could still be thousands of them approaching Earth at present. Hence, it is imperative to have an accurate statistical data of their population.

On June 21, NASA announced plans on how the United States could be prepared for NEOs that are orbiting within 30 million miles of Earth.

Number Of Unconfirmed Near-Earth Objects

The study, published in The Astronomical Journal on June 8, reported that data from 2013 to 2016 revealed there are about 17,000 objects that could be likely NEO candidates. The total number of known NEOs is more than 18,000. Still, the scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics estimated that there remained about 18 percent of NEO candidates that are left unaccounted for.

These NEOs remained unconfirmed due to a number of factors. One is that there is a delay in reporting once detection has been made.

The authors explained that since NEOs are moving, the party tracking them also has the tendency to delay the initial reports by two to 10 hours. While this delay may result to more precise and accurate position of the object, this window time also results in doubling the number of unconfirmed objects. The delay could also make it difficult for the party to do follow-up monitoring since the object is continuously moving.

Another problem why there are unconfirmed NEOs is that these objects are much fainter, making it harder to follow. This poses a problem because the process for confirming NEOs involved distinguishing between known and unknown targets. Later on, the unknown targets, which could also be the much fainter ones, should be followed systematically to finally measure their orbits relative to Earth.

This seemingly endless cycle of spotting and then eventually losing a faint object results in many NEOs being detected but are not continuously tracked, hence adding to the number of unconfirmed objects approaching the Earth from an unnoticed position.

NASA's Plan To Stop NEOs

NASA said there are no known NEOs that currently pose a threat of possible collisions to Earth. Nevertheless, the agency, together with the government, announced The National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Plan. It detailed steps that NASA would take to address any future risks involving NEOs.

NASA has been studying NEOs since the 1970s and recorded more than 300,000 of NEOs larger than 131 feet. The agency said there are many NEOs that are difficult to detect in advance.

Since 1998, the agency has documented about 96 percent of the objects that are large enough to be a cause of concern.

However, there still a chance that larger objects could come out and strike Earth within a short notice. Such was the case of the asteroid that breaks apart over Botswana recently. In May, an asteroid longer than a football field flew by past Earth at just 120,000 miles away. This is the closest that an asteroid flew near Earth for about 300 years.

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