The 1000th Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) has been tracked by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) when its radars picked up 2021 PJ1 as it approached Earth at a distance of barely 1.7 million kilometres.
While the asteroid posed no threat to the world, its distant location made tracking it challenging. It was first estimated to measure between 65 and 100 feet broad, based on radar readings.
Despite its modest size, the asteroid became the 1000th near-earth object to pass the globe, according to history books.
JPL picked up the 1001st item as it approached Earth seven days later. It was bigger this time than previously. It was designated 2016 AJ193 and flew by our planet at a distance of 3.4 million kilometres.
NASA’s asteroid radar research program lead, Lance Benner, said in a statement that the 2021 PJ1 is a small asteroid. So when it passed the Earth at a distance of over a million miles, researchers could not obtain detailed radar imagery.
He said, “Yet even at that distance, planetary radar is powerful enough to detect it and measure its velocity to a very high precision, which improved our knowledge of its future motion substantially.”
The radar detection of these fast-moving objects, which began in 1968, aids astronomers in understanding NEO orbits by providing data that can extend calculations of future motion by decades to centuries, allowing astronomers to definitively predict whether an asteroid will strike Earth or simply pass close by.
The radars also offer crucial information on the object’s size, shape, spin rate, and whether or not one or more tiny moons are present.
Before it was damaged and deactivated in 2020, the telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico spotted almost half of these asteroids.
Fourteen NEAs were discovered utilising antennas at the Deep Space Network’s Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex to send radio signals to asteroids and the CSIRO’s Australian Telescope Compact Array and Parkes Observatory in New South Wales to collect radar reflections.
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