Asteroid 2002 NT7: 'Low-Probability' of Impact in 2019
NASA. Asteroid 2002 NT7 currently heads the list on our IMPACT RISKS
Page because of a low-probability Earth impact prediction for February
1, 2019. While this prediction is of scientific interest, the probability
of impact is not large enough to warrant public concern.
Discovered on July 9, 2002 by the LINEAR team, asteroid 2002 NT7
is in an orbit, which is highly inclined with respect to the Earth's
orbit about the sun and in fact nearly intersects the orbit of the
Earth. While the orbits of Earth and 2002 NT7 are close to one another
at one point in their respective orbits, that does not mean that
the asteroid and Earth themselves will get close to one another.
Just after an asteroid like 2002 NT7 is discovered, the limited
number of observations available do not allow its trajectory to
be tightly constrained and the object's very uncertain future motion
often allows a very low probability of an Earth impact at some future
date. Just such a low probability impact has been identified for
February 1, 2019 and a few subsequent dates. As additional observations
of the asteroid are made in the coming months, and perhaps pre-discovery
archival observations of this object are identified, the asteroid's
orbit will become more tightly constrained and the future motion
of the asteroid will become better defined. By far the most likely
scenario is that, with additional data, the possibility of an Earth
impact will be eliminated.
This is an example of the type of scenario that we can expect
as some types of near-Earth objects are discovered. For some objects,
their uncertain initial orbits cannot be used to immediately rule
out future very low-probability Earth impacts, but when additional
observations are used to refine the initial orbit, these low-probability
Earth impact possibilities will go away. Other recently discovered
near-Earth asteroids will be added to the Risk page until their
orbits are refined and they are then dropped off the list of closely
watched objects. This is how the system is expected to work and
any initial indication of a low-probability Earth impact followed
by a removal of that event
from our IMPACT RISKS tables should not be considered a mistake.
It is a natural result of the on-going process of monitoring the
motions of near-Earth objects.