Twilight Zone! NASA hunts dangerous asteroids hidden in this blinding space; finds many city killers

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Scientists are searching for dangerous asteroids hidden in our solar system by using the Twilight telescope.

Nasa’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office monitors the sky with telescopes and keeps a track of prominent upcoming flybys by asteroids and other space objects. However, despite this continuous monitoring, there are some potentially dangerous asteroids that remain hidden. Reason? They remain hidden due to the sun’s glare. NASA telescopes are blinded by the Sun and therefore, cannot spot these dangerous asteroids. So, they have looked to hunt them in the Twilight zone. Dangerous they may seem, but astronomer Scott Sheppard, from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC, suggests that the asteroids lurking between Earth and the sun may help scientists to shed light on the history of the solar system. Sheppard explained that these asteroids remain undiscovered as telescopes tend to look away from our planet so that they can avoid the sun’s glare. However, new surveys peering in the other direction are discovering more NEOs and some of them are never-before-seen asteroids.

“New telescopic surveys are braving the Sun’s glare and searching for asteroids toward the Sun during twilight,” wrote Sheppard in a column in the latest Science journal. As shared, the findings include the first asteroid with an orbit interior to Venus named ‘Aylochaxnim 2020 AV2, as well as the asteroid 2021 PH27 with the shortest-known orbital period around the Sun. Some of these are “city-killers,” asteroids. They are large enough to impact Earth severely.

Sheppard is running the twilight survey using the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile to observe a previously hidden world of asteroids that have been hidden due to the sun’s glare.

As per the report, models and surveys suggest that more than 90% of “planet-killer” Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) have been found, however, only about half of the “city-killer” NEOs (those larger than 460 feet, or 140 meters) are known and rest are not.

“There are going to be others either close to the sun, so hard to observe, or on aliasing orbits with Earth that makes them hard to find by the normal survey,” Sheppard added. The asteroids found in the sun’s glare are categorized on the basis of their position in the solar system.

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