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Newly discovered small asteroid just misses Earth; next up is much bigger 12/12/12 asteroid [message #28236] Tue, 11 December 2012 13:22
CyberkNight is currently offline  CyberkNight
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As if 12/12/12 wasn't curious enough of a date already with the whole Mayan-doomsday-but-not-really thing, there's also the dicey issue of tomorrow's relatively close encounter with the huge (nearly three miles long) 4179 Toutatis asteroid, expected to pass within 4 million miles of Earth. As the author of this story puts it, "On the scale of the cosmos, that is a very close shave."

But if you think that's too close for comfort, how about an asteroid passing within just 140,000 miles (only 60% of the distance between the Earth and moon) of our planet? Guess what?... already happened earlier this morning.

Discovered only two days ago, XE54 came about as close to crashing into Earth as an asteroid can without actually doing so - close enough to be "eclipsed by Earth's shadow, causing its shadow to 'wink out' for a short time," according to Universe Today.

With a diameter of just 72-160 feet, XE54 is a far cry from the over six-mile wide asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs (and about 50% of all life's species) 65 million years ago. But, while it's possible an asteroid of this size would produce nothing more than a brilliant fireball as it disintegrated after entering the atmosphere, a direct hit by remaining rock chunks on a populated region could be disastrous.

Believe it or not, a surprise near miss of this sort is not especially unusual. In June 2011, an steroid estimated about 30 feet in size ("2011 MD") passed by Earth and missed a direct hit by only 7,500 miles. An even closer encounter occurred earlier in 2011 when another small asteroid missed Earth by just 3,400 miles.

Asteroids coming this close cross through the zone of geosynchronous satellites (such as the GOES series). The chances of an asteroid-satellite collision are extremely small, though not zero.

Small asteroids such as these are difficult to discover, usually detected within a week of their closest encounter, and that's much too little time to do anything but issue a warning about the likely locations of impact. In most, but not all cases, impacts would focus on oceans or relatively unpopulated regions.

Fortunately, asteroid strikes by ones of the size that wiped out dinosaurs are few and far between. An impact with more common intermediate-sized asteroids - dimensions larger than about 500 feet would explode with the power of a large atomic bomb. However, large and intermediate-sized asteroids can be detected and tracked years before any close encounter with Earth.

At this time, there are no sure collisions on the horizon even over the next few hundred years. That said, much of the sky, especially that viewed from the southern hemisphere, is not being monitored!

Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/pos t/newly-discovered-small-asteroid-just-misses-colliding-with -earth-next-up-is-much-bigger-121212-asteroid/2012/12/11/510 48aae-43a4-11e2-9648-a2c323a991d6_blog.html


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