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SciTech Powerful Asteroid Whizzes Past Earth


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
The 50-metre-long rock could have destroyed a small country

An asteroid as powerful as 15 atomic bombs has whizzed past the earth at a distance about 10 times that of the moon.

Astronomers first spotted the cigar—shaped object, identified as Asteroid 2011 GP59, spinning through space a week ago and tracked its movement, the Daily Mail reported.

The 50-metre-long rock that could have destroyed a small country, however, went barely noticed as it passed earth at a distance of some 2,085,321 miles, the report said.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist Don Yeomans said: “Usually, when we see an asteroid strobe on and off like that, it means that the body is elongated and we are viewing its broadside along its long axis first, and then on its narrow end as it rotates.”

Changing brightness

“GP59 is approximately 50m long, and we think its period of rotation is about seven-and-half minutes. This makes the object's brightness change every four minutes or so.”

Nick James from Chelmsford, Essex, recorded the newly discovered asteroid on Monday night showing the object hurtling across the screen and blinking on and off.

The asteroid, which was recorded with an 11-inch telescope, was around 2,085,321 miles away from the earth — about 10 times the distance of the moon, which is 238,857 miles.

It was picked up by astronomers at the Observatorio Astronomico de Mallorca in Andalusia, Spain, who have since determined that it's heading towards the earth.

On Friday, the cosmic rock passed the Earth at a distance of more than two million miles. Space experts said there was no need for concern as a direct hit on the earth was highly unlikely.

“There is no possibility of the small space rock entering earth's atmosphere during this pass or for the foreseeable future,” Mr. Yeoman added.

He said the orbit of the asteroid could be accurately plotted. Astronomers have so far recorded around 3,000 asteroids.

The most recent asteroid is five times bigger than the one that exploded over Indonesia in October 2009.



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