KEY POINTS

  • An asteroid missed the Earth Thursday
  • It was an amateur astronomer who discovered the said asteroid
  • Amateur astronomers help major agencies in the efforts to protect the Earth 

The asteroid that missed the Earth this week was discovered by an amateur astronomer. His finding shows how valuable amateur astronomers are in the quest to protect the planet from potential danger.

It was in 2019 when amateur astronomer Leonardo Scanferla Amaral was awarded an $8,500 grant from The Planetary Society so that he can purchase a more stable telescope mount. This particular grant that he received focuses on amateur astronomers who track potentially dangerous space rocks such as the 1-kilometer asteroid that whizzed past the Earth just Thursday.

In fact, it was Amaral who discovered the asteroid that safely flew past the Earth on Thursday at a safe distance of some 40 million kilometers away.

Although NASA and other major agencies do track these asteroids, a news release from The Planetary Society noted that all of the major telescopes used to search for asteroids are in the Northern Hemisphere, which means that there is still a chance to miss the asteroids that are only observable from the Southern Hemisphere.

In the case of Amaral, he spotted the near-Earth object (NEO) from the Campo dos Amarais observatory in Brazil. He had initially ordered new equipment but shipment was delayed because of the pandemic. Nevertheless, he was still able to upgrade some of his gear and make over 450 observations this year. He had even discovered a comet that is now named after him.

"This discovery reminds us that even though we've found most large NEOs, we haven't found all of them," The Planetary Society chief advocate and senior space policy adviser Casey Dreier said in the news release from the organization. "We must continue to support ground-based astronomers and invest in new space-based capabilities like NEOSM in order to protect Earth now and in the future."

And Amaral is not alone in this. In other parts of the world, amateur astronomers have been helping major agencies monitor the skies for potential danger. In the year 2000, for instance, it was an amateur astronomer, a school teacher, who spotted an NEO just from his backyard. Even the famous Hale-Bopp comet was discovered by amateur astronomers Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp in 1997.

"Amateur astronomers are making a big difference in helping NASA keep an eye on the comets and asteroids that can get close to Earth," NASA wrote in a feature on the contributions of amateur astronomers in monitoring NEOs. "Once a new near-Earth asteroid is discovered, the efficiency with which amateurs provide these follow-up observations allows larger professional telescope facilities to continue scanning the skies for more new discoveries."

Asteroid Image: Artist illustration of an asteroid heading for the Earth Photo: Pixabay