Massive ‘Planet-Killer’ Asteroid Identified in Solar System

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Maciej Frolow/Getty Images)

Astronomers have discovered an asteroid nearing Earth’s orbit they’ve described as a “planet-killer.” That doesn’t mean it’s going to impact Earth, only that in the hypothetical situation that it did, it would be a major devastation to life on our planet. But what categorizes an asteroid as a “planet-killer,” anyway?

Researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington discovered asteroid 2022 AP7. Lead study author Scott Sheppard wrote that he and his colleagues found three “rather large” asteroids within the orbits of Earth and Venus. Astronomers also categorized 2022 AP7 as a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA) because its orbit crosses Earth’s orbit.

Researchers categorized 2022 AP7 as a “planet-killer” because of its size. 2022 AP7 is about 1.1km to 2.3km in diameter, making it the largest PHA recorded since 2014. It’s also in the top 5% of largest asteroids ever found, according to a report from the Guardian.

“Any asteroid over 1km in size is considered a planet killer,” said Sheppard. According to the researchers, if an asteroid that size were to hit Earth, it would kick up debris and pollutants into the atmosphere that would linger for years. “The Earth’s surface would likely cool significantly from sunlight not getting to the planet. It would be a mass extinction event like hasn’t been seen on Earth in millions of years,” Sheppard added.

While this sounds catastrophic for Earth, Sheppard was quick to reassure. “It has no chance to hit the Earth, currently,” he shared. 2022 AP7 will cross Earth’s orbit when the Earth is on the other side of the Sun. So, we’re safe from the “planet-killer.”

Huge ‘Potentially Hazardous Asteroid’ Passed By Earth On November 1

Today, Nov. 1, a huge asteroid crossed Earth’s orbit. Called 2022 RM4, researchers categorized the asteroid as potentially hazardous because it crossed Earth’s orbit. It passed relatively close to our planet, in cosmic terms: six times the distance of Earth to the Moon. It was 1.43 million miles from Earth when it passed by us.

Additionally, while not as big as 2022 AP7, this asteroid was still massive. It was almost the size of the world’s largest skyscraper, Dubai’s 2,716-foot-tall Burj Khalifa. 2022 RM4 was 2,428 feet in diameter and whizzed by at 52,500 mph, 68 times the speed of light.

2022 RM4 was initially discovered on Sept. 12 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System in Haleakala, Hawaii. Since then, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory classified it as a near-Earth object, an Apollo-type object, and a potentially hazardous asteroid. All pretty broad specifications mainly used for categorizations of asteroids.

Additionally, this past Halloween weekend, there were five other asteroids that flew by Earth. Three were about bus-sized, one was the size of a house, and the last one was almost the size of an airplane.