Czech astronomers discover new asteroid

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Czech astronomers have made a number of important discoveries recently. Earlier this year they discovered a Nova, which is a star temporarily emitting a great amount of energy and light, and solved a question which was puzzling astronomers around the world, that is whether one very bright object was or was not actually two stars. Several days ago, an unknown asteroid was observed from the Klet observatory in South Bohemia. More from Pavla Horakova.

Astronomers Milos Tichy and his wife Jana who work at the Klet observatory discovered an unknown asteroid moving close to the earth last week. The object, about 70 metres in diameter, passed our planet at a distance of 3.5 billion kilometres, which is relatively close by astronomical standards. We know of around 900 such objects, known as near-earth asteroids. They present a potential threat to the earth because they interfere with the earth's orbit. The one discovered last week has a similar size to the object which caused the Tunguz catastrophe in Siberia in 1908. Czech observatories participate in a joint programme of monitoring these near-earth asteroids. Petr Harmanec is the director of the Astronomical Institute of Charles University.

"This programme has immediate consequences for people. In case there is indeed some large asteroid which could one day fall into the earth's atmosphere, this would be a catastrophe of global proportions. If this monitoring allowed us to know the exact orbit of such a body well in advance, the present rocket technology would allow us probably to do something against it. It means to change the trajectory of such a body when it is still far away from the earth. You know that one satellite was sent to the Eros asteroid and which then became an artificial satellite of this asteroid, therefore the technology is indeed there."

The discovery made by the Tichys was confirmed on the same night by astronomers from New Zealand and Canada. The asteroid was given the international designation 2002 LK and is now moving safely away from the earth. Czech astronomers are celebrating their new success and they hope the new law reducing light pollution in the country will help to improve conditions for observing and thus enable more such discoveries.