NASA has set its sights on a family of strange asteroids that follow a wild path through the solar system’s equatorial plane. According to Discovery News, the asteroids shun the regular orbital paths followed by most common asteroids, and scientists think that they are the product of a massive collision that occurred nearly 700 million years ago.
The asteroids are believed to come from a much bigger asteroid, called Euphrosyne. The impact left the 156-mile asteroid behind, with only a small family of erratically moving chunks left behind. Euphrosyne lives between the orbital paths of Mars and Jupiter, and is one of the ten largest asteroids known.
Astronomers tracking near-Earth objects (NEOs) have taken great interest to this unique family of asteroids. After interacting with a delicate resonance caused by Saturn’s gravity, some of the asteroids have the potential to fall into orbital paths closer to Earth.
According to NASA’s Joseph Masiero, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, the gravitational resonance with Saturn’s orbit could potentially push these fragments into the space near Earth. The asteroids were tracked with NEOWISE, a spacecraft that scans infrared light throughout the sky. The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, (WISE), was retired in 2011 due to a low supply of coolant, but it was re-launched to keep tabs on the more than 700,000 known objects in the asteroid belt.
NEOs pose a huge risk to Earth, but thanks to the watchful eye of NASA and the NEOWISE project, we can be sure that the right people are keeping tabs on the threats posed by erratic, oddball asteroids that seemingly follow an orbital path of their own.