Earth Likely Safe from Catastrophic Asteroid Impact for the Next Millennium

Earth Likely Safe from Catastrophic Asteroid Impact for the Next Millennium

Take a Millennium Break: New Study Suggests Earth Unlikely to Face Major Asteroid Impact for 1,000 Years. According to a recent study conducted by Oscar Fuentes-Muñoz from the University of Colorado, Boulder, it seems that Earth can breathe a sigh of relief for the next 1,000 years as the likelihood of a significant asteroid collision is extremely low.

The study, accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal, tracked the potential impact of large asteroids on Earth and concluded that, based on current knowledge, there is no imminent threat within the next millennium.

This finding brings good news considering the catastrophic event that occurred approximately 66 million years ago when a colossal 10-kilometre-wide asteroid is believed to have led to the extinction of dinosaurs. The impact caused widespread devastation, with molten debris causing immediate devastation and an ensuing environmental disaster as dust and soot covered the planet, resulting in a prolonged period of darkness and cold.

Thankfully, such catastrophic asteroid impacts are rare, with NASA previously estimating that civilization-threatening events caused by asteroids larger than one kilometre occur only once every few million years. While the possibility could not be entirely ruled out until now, this study provides reassurance that such an event is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Fuentes-Muñoz and his colleagues claim to have achieved this feat. They assert that NASA’s catalog of near-Earth asteroids larger than one kilometer is now considered to be 95% complete, with nearly 1,000 such objects identified. By tracking the orbits of these asteroids and factoring in variables like Jupiter’s gravitational influence, astronomers can make predictions about their paths up to a century into the future.

In their recent study, the researchers employed a different approach. They used modeling techniques to estimate when these asteroids would come close to Earth in their orbits and extended these projections up to 1,000 years ahead. This novel methodology provided insights into impact risks over a much longer time frame than previous methods, while being less computationally demanding.

Among the asteroids analyzed in the study, the one with the highest likelihood of impact was named 1994 PC1. This kilometer-wide stony asteroid was found to have a 0.00151% chance of passing within the orbit of the moon in the next 1,000 years. Although this probability is incredibly low, it remains ten times higher than that of any other asteroid.

Fuentes-Muñoz emphasizes that a collision with 1994 PC1 is still unlikely. However, he highlights the scientific value of such an event, as it would provide a significant opportunity for study due to the asteroid’s considerable size and close proximity to Earth.

The motivation for the study partly stemmed from a request made by the US Congress in 1998, urging NASA to compile a catalog of 90% of near-Earth asteroids larger than one kilometer. Davide Farnocchia states that while asteroid impacts with the potential to cause significant damage to Earth are highly improbable, they are conducting their research diligently as a precautionary measure.

Áine O’Brien, a planetary scientist from the University of Glasgow who was not involved in the study but tracks incoming meteors, appreciates the simulations now extending the prediction period for large-asteroid impacts beyond 100 years. She considers this extension to be a positive development.

However, the risk of smaller asteroids, which are more abundant, still persists. O’Brien points out the example of the 2013 Chelyabinsk event in Russia, where a meteor only 20 meters in size caused considerable damage, injuring over 1,000 people and shattering windows. She emphasizes that smaller objects can still have significant destructive potential.

There are ongoing efforts to track smaller asteroids as well. Fuentes-Muñoz mentions that NASA’s catalog is approximately 40% complete for asteroids larger than 140 meters, which have the potential to devastate a city. However, the actual quantity of such asteroids remains uncertain. There is optimism that new sky surveys, such as the upcoming survey by the Vera Rubin Observatory in Chile, will significantly improve the completeness rate and provide valuable insights.

At present, it appears that civilization as a whole can find solace for the time being. O’Brien suggests that eventually there will be a threat approaching, but it seems highly improbable that this event will occur prior to the year 3000.

Earth Likely Safe from Catastrophic Asteroid Impact for the Next Millennium

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