A rare double asteroid passed by Earth allowing researchers to collect valuable information which could be useful in the future. Known under the name of 1999 KW4, the space rock was observed by the International Asteroid Warning Network as it came to a distance of 5.2 million kilometers.
Scientists took photos of the 1999 KW4 double asteroid
This double asteroid is not classified as a dangerous one, but it shares many traits with Didymos, another binary asteroid system which has the potential to become a threat for our planet shortly.
Asteroid 1999 KW4 is a binary asteroid, or a so-called double asteroid, with a width of more than 1 kilometer, featuring two objects which orbit around each other. An ESO representative has stated that the data which was recovered will be used in the creation of suitable defense strategies against objects which appear to be on a collision course with our planet.
The knowledge is also handy in the case of a terrible scenario since it would allow researchers to predict how the object would interact with the atmosphere and surface of Earth, and the predictions will contribute to damage mitigation.
Observing the 1999 KW4 double asteroid offered essential information on binary asteroid systems
Didymos is already the target of a remarkable planetary defense strategy which aims to use a kinetic impactor in an attempt to force it to change its trajectory. The project, which is developed by NASA, will involve the use of a special spacecraft called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (also known as DART).
The American space agency plans to launch DART in 2021, and the impact should take place in 2026. The event will be observed with the help of a built-in Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for OP-nav (or DRACO) camera. The plan is to strike Didymos B, but its composition and structure have remained unknown for now, according to the lead researcher of the project.
Other voices claim that a nuclear warhead could be used as an alternative, but this alternative carries additional consequences since nuclear radiation, and radioactive debris could harm Earth in the long run.