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Asteroid to fly by Earth

Thursday, January 24, 2008

On January 29, 2008, an asteroid that is between 500 and 2,000 feet in diameter (150 - 600m) will pass within 1.4 lunar distances (334,000 miles or 535,000 km) of Earth according to NASA's Near Earth Object program (NEO). For a brief time the asteroid will be observable in dark and clear skies with amateur telescopes of 3 inch apertures or larger.

Asteroid 2007 TU24, discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey on October 11, 2007 is expected to reach a brightness magnitude of 10.3 on Jan. 29-30 before quickly becoming fainter as it moves further from Earth. To compare the asteroid's distance from Earth, the Moon is only 239,228 miles away from the planet.

It is estimated that nearly 7,000 asteroids of this size, both discovered and undiscovered are flying around space within a reasonable distance of Earth. An asteroid this big usually passes Earth about every five years or so. The average interval between actual Earth impacts for an object of this size would be about 37,000 years.

"If it [were to] hit in the ocean, which is more likely because two thirds of the Earth is ocean, it would create a tsunami, which would be devastating for the coastlines that happen to be nearby. It would be a huge local problem and the tsunami would be extraordinary if it hit in the ocean," said NEO manager Don Yeomans.

2007 TU24 will be the closest currently known approach by a potentially hazardous asteroid of this size or larger until 2027. Plans have been made for the Goldstone planetary radar to observe this object Jan 23-24 and for the Arecibo Observatory to observe it Jan 27-28 and then Feb 1-4. High resolution radar imaging is expected, which may permit later 3-D shape reconstruction.


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