Astronomers reduce estimate of still undiscovered dangerous asteroids


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Astronomers have now reduced [pdf] their estimate of the number of still undiscovered dangerous Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) that could impact the Earth from 100 to less than 40.

Observers have been cataloging potentially hazardous asteroids for decades. Based on the number of finds, the area of sky explored, and the limiting brightness our telescopes and cameras can reach, researchers can estimate what fraction of the NEA population has been detected so far and how many more objects lurk undiscovered. Harris has published numerous such estimates over the years. Recently he realized that his estimates have been plagued by a seemingly innocuous but nonetheless consequential round-off error. Once corrected, the estimated number of large (diameter > 1 kilometer) NEAs remaining to be discovered decreases from more than 100 to less than 40.

To put it mildly, there is a lot of uncertainty here. This also reminds me of the cavers’ joke question: “How many miles of unexplored passages does this cave have?”

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