An asteroid was supposed to hit Earth in September — but astronomers can’t seem to find it

An asteroid that was expected to hit the Earth on 9 September 2019 might, not be on its way to Earth after all. The European Space Agency ( ESA) has determined that Asteroid 2006 QV89 is not on a collision course to Earth because the asteroid isn’t where it’s supposed to be if it were heading here.

In fact, there’s no sign of the asteroid in that area of deep space, and it’s highly unlikely that it’s coming to Earth at all. This is the first time that a non-detection technique has been used to rule out an asteroid impact.

Since astronomers can’t determine the trajectory of the asteroid, they had no way of knowing where QV89 was. It’s hard to find something if you don’t know where to look. So, instead, the ESA and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) to look into deep space. Not just anywhere, but in a small area of the sky where the asteroid would be seen if it were on its way to Earth.

Thankfully, it was empty.

Why were we worried?

There was only a one-in-7,000 chance that the asteroid would impact Earth based on observations from its first visit in August 2006. After it was sighted, the asteroid stuck around for ten days before disappearing into space, never to be seen since.

Ten days is hardly enough time but anytime there is even a possibility, however remote, of an asteroid hitting Earth, observations and measurements are mandatory.

Using the observations, scientists were able to determine the asteroid's path, the potential risk, and rule out a collision altogether. But this time around it was concluded that there was a 1-in-7000 chance that it would collide with Earth on 9 September 2019.

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