The ‘planet-killer’ asteroid in Sun’s glare and the threat to Earth

The ‘planet killer’ named 2022 AP7 was found along with two other near-Earth asteroids using a high-tech instrument on the Victor M Blanco telescope in Chile originally developed to study dark matter. Experts say its collision with the Earth could cause an ‘extinction-level’ event

Astronomers have found three asteroids hiding in the glare of the Sun, one of which has the potential to be a ‘planet killer’.

The 1.5 kilometre-wide asteroid, named 2022 AP7, was found by an international team of astronomers in an area in which it is notoriously difficult to spot objects due to the glare of the Sun.

The ‘planet killer’ was found along with two other near-Earth asteroids using a high-tech instrument on the Victor M Blanco telescope in Chile that was originally developed to study dark matter.

Let’s take a closer look:

What we know about 2022 AP7

The newly-discovered asteroid is “the largest object that is potentially hazardous to Earth to be discovered in the last eight years,” said NOIRLab, a US-funded research group that operates multiple observatories.

The results were published in the scientific journal The Astronomical Journal.

As per CNET, the asteroid is roughly the size of the US pentagon.

2022 AP7 takes five years to circle the Sun under its current orbit, which at its closest point to Earth remain several million kilometres away.

The other asteroids, 2021 LJ4 and 2021 PH27, which are the size of the US Capitol building and Golden Gate Bridge, respectively pose no risk to Earth, as per CNET.

As per IndiaTimes, the asteroid was difficult to find because it orbits the region between Earth and Venus.

Scientists wishing to discover objects in this region need to look at the Sun – a task made more difficult due to its glare.

As per, the discovery was made by the supersentive Dark Energy Camera (DEC) at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, which scans the sky during twilight hours when these asteroids can be detected within two 10-minute periods each day.

Only about 25 asteroids with orbits completely within Earth’s orbit have been discovered to date because of the difficulty of observing near the glare of the Sun,” Scott S Sheppard, an astronomer at the Earth and Planets Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution for Science and the lead author of the new paper, was quoted as saying.

How worried should we be?

Not very.

Astronomers say there is only a ‘small chance’  that 2022 AP7 will collide with the Earth.

“2022 AP7 crosses Earth’s orbit, which makes it a potentially hazardous asteroid, but it currently does not now or anytime in the future have a trajectory that will have it collide with the Earth,” Sheppard added.

The risk is therefore very small, but in case of a collision, an asteroid of that size “would have a devastating impact on life as we know it,” said Sheppard.

He explained that dust launched into the air would have a major cooling effect, provoking an “extinction event like hasn’t been seen on Earth in millions of years.”

What’s the issue then?

The potential threat comes from the fact that like any orbiting object, its trajectory will be slowly modified due to myriad gravitational forces, notably by planets.

Some 30,000 asteroids of all sizes — including more than 850 larger than a kilometer wide — have been catalogued in the vicinity of the Earth, earning them the label “Near Earth Objects” (NEOs).

None of them threaten Earth for the next 100 years.

Astronomers are keeping a close watch on 2,200 potentially hazardous asteroids, space rocks that orbit dangerously close to Earth and are wider than 1 kilometre, as per

Such asteroids are of the greatest concern as they would cause widespread destruction, potentially affecting the entire planet.

According to Sheppard, there are “likely 20 to 50 large NEOs left to find,” but most are on orbits that put them in the Sun’s glare.

The trouble is long term forecasts are often difficult to make.

The 2013 meteor that exploded over Russia comes to mind.

As per CNET, that meteor, which came from a previously undiscovered asteroid that came from behind the Sun, took astronomers by surprise.

In preparation for a future discovery of a more threatening object, NASA conducted a test mission in late September in which it collided a spacecraft with an asteroid, proving that it was possible to change its trajectory.

With inputs from agencies

This article originally appeared on and was reproduced here with permission


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