First Potentially Hazardous Asteroid Discovered with Maui Telescope

September 28, 2010, 9:38 AM HST · Updated September 28, 9:38 AM
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The University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS PS1 telescope at Haleakala on Maui has discovered an asteroid that will come within 4 million miles of Earth in mid-October. The object is about 150 feet in diameter and was discovered in images acquired earlier this month.

UH officials say that although the object will not hit Earth in the immediate future, its discovery shows that Pan-STARRS is now the most sensitive system dedicated to discovering potentially dangerous asteroids.

Photo Credit: Rob Ratkowski

The asteroid, named 2010 ST3, is the first “potentially hazardous object” (PHO) to be discovered by the Pan-STARRS survey.

Objects the size of 2010 ST3 usually break up in Earth’s atmosphere, but the resulting blast wave on the surface can still devastate an area covering hundreds of square miles. Scientists believe that there is a very slight possibility that ST3 will hit Earth in 2098.

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Scientists suspect that there are many more objects under a mile across that have not yet been discovered. They say these objects could cause devastation on a regional scale if they ever hit the planet. Such impacts are estimated to occur once every few thousand years.  NASA experts believe that, given several years warning, it should be possible to organize a space mission to deflect any asteroid that is discovered to be on a collision course with Earth.

Pan-STARRS has broader goals as well. PS1 and its bigger brother, PS4, which is projected to be operational later in this decade, are expected to discover a million or more asteroids in total, as well as more distant targets such as variable stars, supernovas, and mysterious bursts from galaxies across more than half the universe.

(Information courtesy: Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii.  Photo Credit:  Rob Ratkowski)

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