A bright light in the sky, a thud, and a ball of fire. When a meteor enters our atmosphere, the phenomenon is all the more frightening because it is unexpected. The detection this Monday, March 11, several hours before its disintegration above the Norwegian Sea, of the asteroid 2022 EB5 is therefore particularly impressive.
If the major asteroids, which represent a real risk for the Earth, are detected months or even years in advance, the smaller ones are much more difficult to anticipate.
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Small comets slam into Earthabout every ten months“, explains to CNN Paul Chodas, the director of the Near-Earth Object Study Center (or CNEOS, “Center for Near-Earth Object Studies”), the NASA department responsible for detecting asteroids that pose a potential threat. They can be only a few meters in diameter (two in the case of EB5), and move very quickly in the sky. A telescope must therefore be in the right place at the right time.
Trajectory determined in forty minutes
2022 EB5 was first detected by astronomer Krisztián Sarneczky, at the Piszkéstető Observatory, in northern Hungary. He then notified the Minor Planets Center. From there the information goes back to Scout, a NASA system which automatically calculates the trajectory of asteroids.
“Scout had just fourteen forty-minute sightings from a single observatory when he identified the object could crash between Greenland and Norway“, boasts one of the developers of Scout.
Once other observatories began observing the celestial object and reporting their data, Scout’s predictions became more refined, and the program was able to precisely determine where the meteor was heading.
It is only the fifth time that a small asteroid has been spotted before it enters Earth. And the more sophisticated space agency devices become, the better we will anticipate these celestial falls.