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More than 30,000 NEOs Identified

Published on 14 October 2022

The European Space Agency (ESA) reported on October 12 that the various sky observation programmes have now identified 30,044 asteroids whose orbit approaches our planet . None pose a threat at this time.

For several decades, a global coordination has been aiming to enlist sky-watching dedicated automatic observatories responsible for locating what are called near-earth objects or NEOs.

Good news? Yes!

The Solar System comprises about one million known asteroids, the largest number being located between Mars and Jupiter. This is the main belt of asteroids. NEOs are those whose orbit comes within 45 million kilometres of that of the Earth.
The ESA video below explains what NEOs are.

The fact that the various observation programs have now catalogued more than 30,000 objects whose orbit is estimated to be close to ours may seem worrying. However, and without any false optimism, we must also consider it as hard evidence of the effectiveness of the instruments responsible for scanning the sky. The main idea is indeed to spot a threatening asteroid sufficiently early to organise a deflection mission. The recent success of NASA ‘s DART has shown that this is no longer theoretical or science fiction. Obviously this logic works if we have more and more efficient tools. The European Space Agency (ESA) is thus doing its part with the planned Flyeye, a telescope 1m in diameter capable of locating an object 40m wide a few weeks before it approaches us (and therefore many years, even decades, before for larger objects).

Illustration du télescope Flyeye de l’ESA. Il sera installé sur le mont Mufara à 1865 m d’altitude en Sicile. Crédit : ESA

Illustration of ESA’s Flyeye telescope. It will be installed at an altitude of 1865m on Mount Mufara in Sicily.
Credit: ESA

Data from the various observatories is processed and archived in special centres. For ESA, this is the NEOCC (Near-Earth Objects Coordination Centre). Its website maintains a list of so-called dangerous objects (approximately 1,400 listed). Please note, this does not mean that these NEOs constitute a threat, just that their probability of impact is not zero (very low, however) in the years to come. Don’t worry, above all, this list indicates that planetary protection is a reality!

A subject also covered in the IMAX film Asteroid Hunters 3D presented at Cité de l’espace in Toulouse .

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