Moscow University’s robotic telescope MASTER has discovered a massive asteroid dubbed 2014 UR116. It is the third and the largest space rock detected by the MASTER system. If a collision happens, the explosion would be 1,000 more powerful the Chelyabinsk meteorite explosion in 2013. Ilfan Bikmaev, Professor of KFU Department of Astronomy and Cosmic geodesy, explained how other astronomical stations could miss the rock and what the likelihood of the collision is.
The robotic telescope network that discovered 2014 UR116 is called MASTER (Mobile Astronomical System of the TElescope-Robots). It is a network of 400 mm robotic optical telescopes, launched in 2002-2011. It belongs to Moscow State University and was created in close cooperation with Russian universities in Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Blagoveschensk, the Kislovodsk station of Pulkovo Observatory and help from the National University of San Juan, Argentina.
The main goal of the MASTER-net project is to produce a unique fast sky survey with all sky observed over a single night down to a limiting magnitude of 19 — 20mag. The survey makes it possible to address a number of fundamental problems: search for dark energy via the discovery and photometry of supernovas (including SNIa), search for exoplanets, microlen sing effects, discovery of minor bodies in the Solar System and space - junk monitoring.
MASTER has already snagged two other potentially dangerous asteroids: 2013 SW24 and 2013 UG1, but they were smaller than 2014 UR116, ‘only’ 250 and 125 meters respectively. Other 600 smaller potentially dangerous objects discovered by MASTER can come to Earth closer than 7 million km (it is 20 times the distance from Earth to Moon) and hit it. To try to avoid such situations, scientists study their orbits and physical characteristics.
The analysis of the data received from different telescopes of the world shows that over 4 thousand potentially dangerous asteroids can fly close to Earth in vicinity of the Solar System, only 1300 of them being discovered.
An automatic telescope installed in Russia’s Caucasus Mountains, near the city of Kislovodsk, first spotted 2014 UR116 on October 27, 2014. The asteroid is estimated to be 370 meters in diameter. At the moment the closest part of 2014 UR116’s orbit is 4.5 million kilometers from Earth, the distance big enough for the collision to happen. But this may and will change. The potentially dangerous asteroids change their orbit and speed under the gravity effect while approaching planets and numerous large asteroids. So scientists should keep an eye on 2014 UR116 for years to come to predict the moment the asteroid may hit the Earth.
The astronomers of Kazan Federal University take an active part in the exploration of the potentially dangerous asteroids with 1.5 m RTT-150 telescope in Turkey. The telescope has a large mirror and a big focal distance that allows precisely determining the location of the objects under survey and control asteroids’ theoretical ephemerides received from smaller telescopes.