After falling to pieces In December 2020, the mighty Arecibo Observatory has one last parting gift for humanity – and it’s befuddled.
Using data collected by Arecibo between December 2017 and December 2019, scientists have published the largest radar-based report of near-Earth asteroids ever published.
The report, published on September 22 at The Planetary Science Journalincludes detailed observations of 191 near-Earth asteroids, including nearly 70 considered “potentially hazardous” — that is, large asteroids with orbits that bring them within 7.5 million kilometers of Earth, or about 20 times the average distance between Earth and 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 orbits happen to be shifted by some accident of nature—say, a hit by another asteroid—putting them on a collision course with Earth.
The new report also highlighted several asteroids deemed worthy of future study, including a curious space object called 2017 YE5 – an extremely rare ‘equal mass’ binary asteroid made of two nearly identical rocks constantly orbiting each other.
(Each of the rocks 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, making it possibly a never-before-seen class of near-Earth, equal-mass ice, the researchers wrote.
With this new “treasure trove” of data, scientists can better measure the shapes, sizes and rotation periods of these asteroids, which are vital metrics for assessing the potential dangers asteroids may pose to our planet. said study leader Anne Virkki. researcher in the Department of Physics at the University of Helsinki in Finland, said in a statement.
“The volume of valuable data collected is unique and these results could not be achieved with any other existing facility,” added study co-author Flaviane Venditti, 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. Its iconic 1,000-foot-wide (305-meter) telescopic dish became world-famous in the 1990s after appearing in films such as Contact (1997) and Golden eye (1995).
By then, the observatory was already known to the scientific community for transmitting humanity’s first message to extraterrestrials into 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 changed its orbital period by 32 minutes.
Arecibo’s career came to an abrupt end in December 2020 after two critical support cables broke, leading to the complete collapse of the telescope.
In October 2022, the National Science Foundation – which owns the site where Arecibo was built – announced that the telescope would not be replaced or repaired, much to the dismay of scientists and space enthusiasts 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 have even more scientific gifts to offer us from beyond the grave in the years to come.
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This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.