Massive Asteroid ‘Could Be Dangerous To Life On Earth’ If It Breaks Up

Written by Dana Sanchez
A 1.2 mile-long asteroid named 2003 YT1 with a history of releasing pieces into space could threaten Earth millions of years from now if it eventually breaks up. This artist’s rendering from NASA in July 2016 shows the mapping of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.(NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona via AP)

A 1.2 mile-long asteroid with a history of cracking and releasing pieces into space could threaten Earth millions of years from now if it eventually breaks up, showering the planet with meteors, scientists reported.

The asteroid, named 2003 YT1 for the year it was discovered, is made up of two parts: a larger rock measuring 1.2 miles and a 690-foot piece that is orbiting it, Fox News reported.

Scientists have determined that a fireball that passed over Kyoto, Japan, late at night on April 28, 2017, was a one-inch meteor that broke off the asteroid, according to Live Science. The Japan meteor had an orbit similar to the binary asteroid 2003 YT1, CNET reported.

“We uncovered the fireball’s true identity,” said Toshihiro Kasuga, a visiting scientist at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and Kyoto Sangyo University, according to CNET. “The 2017 fireball and its parent asteroid gave us a behind-the-scenes look at meteors.”

The findings were first reported in The Astronomical Journal Monday.

“The parent body 2003 YT1 could break up and the “resulting asteroids could hit the Earth in the next 10 million years or so, especially because 2003 YT1 has a dust production mechanism,” Kasuga said in a statement.

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The team believes that at some point in the past, 2003 YT1 cracked under pressure from something called the YORP effect, causing it to twist in an odd way as it rotated, CNET reported. Even a small break in an asteroid can release dust that enters our atmosphere and burns up as fireballs. 

Most dust particles burn up harmlessly in our atmosphere, but if 2003 YT1 completely breaks apart into smaller asteroids, it could pose a threat. Not for millions of years, though.

Asteroids, also called minor planets, are rocky leftovers from the early formation of our solar system about 4.6 billion years ago. There are 930,801 known asteroids, according to NASA. Once their orbit is determined, asteroids are given names. Most asteroids orbit the sun between Mars and Jupiter in the main asteroid belt. Asteroids range in size from Vesta — about 329 miles in diameter — to less than 33 feet. The smallest asteroid ever studied is the six-foot-wide 2015 TC25, which made a close flyby of Earth in October 2015.