Monday, June 27, 2011

Small asteroid swings harmlessly past Earth

An asteroid the size of a tour bus streaked harmlessly past Earth on Monday, passing within 7,600 miles (12,230 kilometers).

Discovered only last week, the relatively small space rock made a hairpin turn around the planet at about 10 a.m. PDT (1800 GMT), sailing high over the southern Atlantic Ocean.

In truth, there was never any doubt it would miss. But given the vastness of the universe, 7,600 miles (12,230 kilometers) is practically a stone’s throw away, at about three times the distance between New York and Los Angeles.

The asteroid, dubbed 2011 MD, was initially mistaken by astronomers for a piece of space junk because it was so small, at up to 60 feet (18 meters) wide. Later observations confirmed it was an asteroid that had no chance of hitting Earth.

Asteroids of this size typically brush by Earth every six years. In fact, earlier this year, a smaller one came even closer to our planet, passing within 3,500 miles (5,630 kilometers).

Even if the latest one had aimed straight for us, it would have burned up in the atmosphere and not caused any damage on the ground.

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