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Asteroid 2021 GT2 and the study of near-Earth objects

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

First detected on April 4th, 2021, asteroid 2021 GT2 sped past the Earth early this morning, June 6th, 2022. Following our blog post defining asteroids and discussing Asteroid Day. This blog post will go into further depth about this recently discovered asteroid.

2021 GT2, is a near-Earth object (NEO). This means that it is an object with dimensions ranging from meters (m) to tens of kilometers (km). NEO's closest orbit to the Sun is no more than 1.3 astronomical units (AU), bearing in mind that the Earth is approximately 1 AU (149.6 million km) away from the Sun. Any NEO larger than 140 m is considered to be a potentially hazardous object (PHO).

Asteroid 2021 GT2 measures between 37-83m, and at 07:35 (GMT+2) this morning (6th June 2022) it sped past our planet at 8km per second (km/s), only 3.63 million km (0.02 AU) away. This was close, but not concerning.

The asteroid will remain in the western sky, in the Pegasus constellation, 51 degrees above the horizon until 15:43 (GMT+2) when it will disappear. The next close approach will be in January 2034, when the asteroid will be 14.5 million km (approximately 0.1AU) away from the Earth.

It is not the first time that NEOs have been a topic of conversation. Impacts have been witnessed throughout history, bringing with them devastation and confusion. It is widely known that extinction events, such as the one which wiped out many dinosaurs, are often associated with large-scale impacts. For many scientists, the recent movie Don't Look Up starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, and Cate Blanchett was a satire that hit way too close to home.

With the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to predict the potential orbits of asteroids, scientists are advancing in the incredibly difficult task of mapping the objects that are closest to Earth in our solar system. Furthermore, growing concern regarding PHOs has led space agencies to take action. This includes the November 2021 launch of NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which will have a head-on collision with Dimorphos, a 160m asteroid, between September 16th-October 1st 2022 attempting to change the orbital direction of the asteroid.

ESA's Space Situational Awareness (SSA) NEO segment has the scientific objectives of locating NEOs, predicting potential impacts and their consequences, as well as providing deflection techniques.

Although there was no need to be concerned about this particular NEO, it is a field that is incredibly important to study. Space weather, such as NEOs as well as solar storm events, could greatly impact human life as we know it. With the space industry growing exponentially, and the possibility to find a job in the space sector increasing, one could imagine a future with as many people working on space weather as those that work on the weather here on Earth too.

If you are interested in upcoming close approaches, please check out this list provided by ESA.

Artist interpretation of the Dimorphos asteroid relative to the scale of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. Image Credit: ESA


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