For only the sixth time in recorded history, astronomers were able to see an asteroid before it hit Earth.
On November 19, 2022, about four hours before this event, the Catalina Sky Survey found an asteroid called 2022 WJ1 on its approach. Telescopes and scientists began to act, accurately calculating the exact time and place on Earth.
This is a very good story. 2022 WJ1 was too small to do much damage, but its detection shows that the Earth’s asteroid monitoring systems are improving, giving us the chance to protect ourselves from falling space rocks – the big ones that can do real damage.
Although space is mostly space, there are also many non-spaces in it. Near Earth, uninhabited objects are usually asteroids that orbit the Sun in a way that brings them close to Earth’s orbit. We call them near-Earth asteroids, and at the time of writing, 30,656 of them have been recorded.
Most of these asteroids are very small, and scientists are confident that we have found almost all of them that are large enough to cause a great danger, they have studied them, and they have confirmed that none of them will come close enough within the next century. to be a threat.
However, it’s good to stay on top of what’s going on around us, and improve our ability to find sneaky rocks when thinking about making a big entrance.
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The discovery of 2022 WJ1 was made at 04:53 UTC on 19 November 2022, by the Mount Lemmon Observatory, part of the Catalina network. It continued to monitor the object, taking four images that allowed astronomers to confirm that it had been found, and reported to the IAU Minor Planet Center at 05:38 UTC.
The four images were enough to calculate the trajectory of asteroids in space, with several monitoring programs estimating that the rock had about a 20 percent chance of landing somewhere in North America.
Subsequent analysis allowed scientists to refine their measurements, providing time and space. Bang on schedule, at 08:27 UTC, 2022 WJ1 was seen moving across the sky like a bright green fire, over the Golden Horseshoe region of Southern Ontario, Canada.
The discovery was the first time a meteor had been predicted to fall on a populated area, but the rock was not dangerous. It was about one meter (3.3 meters) across when it entered Earth’s atmosphere, making it the smallest asteroid ever seen before it entered space.
Here it turned into a flaming eagle and disintegrated, falling to Earth like small pieces that fell into the waters of Lake Ontario. Most meteorite fragments found must be small pieces of debris; scientists hope to take some of them to study space in depth.
The previous five asteroids discovered before the event were 2008 TC3, which was about 4 meters across; 2014 AA, at a distance of three meters; 2018 LA, and three meters across; 2019 MO at 6 meters across; and, earlier this year, 2022 EB5, which was about 2 meters across.
The discovery of 2022 WJ1, and the international collaboration that followed it, is an amazing testament to how technology has grown, and the beauty of human collaboration to better understand space rocks.
And, of course, this observation provides a rare opportunity to study what happens when asteroids enter Earth’s atmosphere.
“This fireball is very important especially because the meteoroid that lived with it was observed telescopically before it hit the sky. This makes it a rare opportunity to combine the telescopic data of the asteroid with its behavior of breaking up in the atmosphere to determine its interior,” said the astronomer. and scientist Peter Brown of the University of Western Ontario.
“This amazing event will provide information about the composition and dynamics that when combined with telescopic measurements will inform us to understand how small asteroids break up in space, important information for planetary protection.”
The debris from 2022 WJ1 should be black, with a thin and fresh crust, and a gray stone interior. Scientists are asking that any suspicious pieces be reported to the Royal Ontario Museum.