After falling apart in December 2020, the mighty Arecibo Observatory has one last parting gift for humanity – and it’s a doozy.
Using data collected by Arecibo between December 2017 and December 2019, scientists released the largest near-Earth asteroid radar report ever.
The report, published on September 22 in The Journal of Planetary Scienceincludes detailed observations of 191 near-Earth asteroids, including nearly 70 considered “potentially hazardous,” i.e., large asteroids whose orbits take them within 4.65 million miles (7.5 million kilometers) from the Earth, or about 20 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon.
Fortunately, none of these newly described asteroids pose an immediate threat to Earth; according to NASA, our planet is safe from deadly asteroid impacts for at least the next 100 years.
However, scientists still pay close attention to near-Earth objects like these in case their trajectories shift by a fluke of nature – say, a bump from another asteroid – thus putting them on a collision course. with the Earth.
The new report also flagged several asteroids deemed worthy of future study, including a strange space object called 2017 YE5 – an ultra-rare “equal-mass” binary asteroid, made up of two nearly identical-sized rocks that are constantly in flux. orbit around each other.
(Each of the boulders is estimated to be between 2,600 and 2,950 feet, or 800 to 900 meters, in diameter).
The asteroid’s high radar reflectivity may indicate an abundance of water ice beneath its surface, possibly making it an unprecedented class of icy, equal-mass, near-Earth asteroids, the researchers wrote.
With this new “treasure” of data, scientists can better measure the shape, size and rotation periods of these asteroids, which are crucial measurements for assessing the potential risks that asteroids may pose to our planet, the report said. The study’s lead author, Anne Virkki, a researcher in the Department of Physics at the University of Helsinki in Finland, said in a statement.
“The amount of valuable data collected is unique, and these results could not have been obtained with any other existing facility,” added Flaviane Venditti, co-author of the study and head of Arecibo’s Planetary Radar Science Group.
The Arecibo Observatory was built in Puerto Rico in 1963, becoming the largest and most powerful radio telescope in the world. His iconic 1,000-foot-wide (305-meter) telescope dish rose to world fame in the 1990s after being featured in films such as Contact (1997) and golden eye (1995).
At that time, the observatory was already known in the scientific community for transmitting humanity’s first message to extraterrestrials. in space in 1974.
More recently, Arecibo’s asteroid observations played a direct role in the planning of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, in which scientists crashed a spacecraft into the near-Earth asteroid Dimorphos and altered its orbital period of 32 minutes.
Arecibo’s career came to an abrupt end in December 2020, after two critical support cables broke, causing the telescope to collapse completely.
In October 2022, the National Science Foundation – owner of the site on which Arecibo was built – announced that the telescope would not be replaced or repaired, much to the dismay of scientists and space lovers around the world.
Researchers are still analyzing a backlog of data from Arecibo, the team noted – so the world’s most famous dead telescope may still have more scientific gifts to give us from beyond the grave in years to come.
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This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.