April 2, 2052 was to be the day an asteroid hit the Earth, the ESA has just updated that

April 2, 2052 was to be the day an asteroid hit the Earth, the ESA has just updated that
'2021 QM1' (R) was discovered on August 28, 2021, by the Mount Lemmon Observatory (L) located north of Tucson, Arizona (Twitter/@esaoperations)

It looks like the Earth realm is safe, at least for now. The European Space Agency (ESA) confirmed that a dreaded near-Earth asteroid initially thought to pose a major threat to our planet is no longer a risk.

The trajectory of a 50-meter-wide asteroid named '2021 QM1' initially suggested it would strike our planet on April 2, 2052, and was put on the "risk list." However, as experts continued to observe and analyze the faintest asteroid ever, they realized there was no possibility of an impact on the said date, and the space rock was thus removed from the ominous list. 

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According to ESA, the asteroid was discovered on August 28, 2021, by the Mount Lemmon Observatory, which is located north of Tucson, Arizona. Nothing came off as suspicious considering a dozen new near-Earth asteroids are discovered on a regular basis. However, ESA’s Head of Planetary Defence Richard Moissl started noticing a concerning case as he and his team continued studying the movement of the newly discovered mass. "These early observations gave us more information about the asteroid’s path, which we then projected into the future," Moissl said in a statement. "We could see its future paths around the Sun, and in 2052 it could come dangerously close to Earth. The more the asteroid was observed, the greater that risk became."

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However, those estimations were based on a few nights of observations, which is also primarily why several asteroids make it to the ESA's "risk list" quite easily. That said, 2021 QM1 became difficult to observe in the following days due to the sun blocking the vision of the asteroid's path from Earth. “We just had to wait,” Marco Micheli, Astronomer at ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre (NEOCC), explained. “But to cap things off, we knew that 2021 QM1 was also moving away from Earth in its current orbit – meaning by the time it passed out of the Sun’s glare, it could be too faint to detect.”

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When the asteroid emerged again, astronomers observed it with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) and charted the space rock's path. VLT was eventually able to capture the faintest picture of the 2021 QM1, which experts said was approximately 250 million times fainter than the faintest stars visible to the naked eye from a dark spot. “We had a brief window in which to spot our risky asteroid,” explained Olivier Hainaut, Astronomer at ESO. “To make matters worse, it was passing through a region of the sky with the Milky Way just behind. Our small, faint, receding asteroid would have to be found against a backdrop of thousands of stars. These would turn out to be some of the trickiest asteroid observations we have ever made." Follow-up observations refined the asteroid's path and helped astronomers confirm that it had no impact probability in 2052, as previously predicted.

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It's worth noting that the so-called "risk list" still contains 1,377 near-Earth asteroids. More than a million asteroids have been discovered in the Solar System, out of which almost 30,000 are said to pass near Earth. ESA’s Planetary Defence Office, NEOCC, and astronomers around the globe constantly monitor asteroid movements to ensure we know well in advance if one of them is on a collision course. The good news about 2021 QM1 comes just a day before Asteroid Day -- a United Nations-sanctioned day of public awareness of the risks of asteroid impacts which is held annually on June 30.

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Disclaimer : This is based on sources and we have been unable to verify this information independently.

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