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Dublin: 6 °C Saturday 20 December, 2014

Asteroid to pass between the earth and the moon

It is bigger than an aircraft carrier – but it won’t hit the earth, scientists promise.

This image made from radar data taken in April 2010 by the Arecibo Radar Telescope in Puerto Rico and provided by NASA/Cornell/Arecibo shows asteroid 2005 YU55.
This image made from radar data taken in April 2010 by the Arecibo Radar Telescope in Puerto Rico and provided by NASA/Cornell/Arecibo shows asteroid 2005 YU55.
Image: AP Photo/NASA/Cornell/Arecibo

AN ASTEROID BIGGER than an aircraft carrier will dart between the Earth and moon on Tuesday — the closest encounter by such a huge rock in 35 years.

But scientists say not to worry – it won’t hit.

The manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program, Don Yeomans, assured:

We’re extremely confident, 100 percent confident, that this is not a threat. But it is an opportunity.

The asteroid named 2005 YU55 is being watched by ground antennas as it approaches from the direction of the sun.

The last time it came within so-called shouting distance was 200 years ago.

On Tuesday night, the asteroid will pass within 202,000 miles of Earth. That’s closer than the roughly 240,000 miles between the Earth and the moon.

Both the Earth and moon are safe — “this time,” said Jay Melosh, professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue University.

If 2005 YU55 were to plow into the home planet, it would blast out a crater four miles across and 1,700 feet deep, according to Melosh’s calculations.

Scientists have been tracking the slowly spinning, spherical, dark-colored object since its discovery in 2005, and are positive it won’t do any damage.

“We know the orbit of this object very well,” Yeomans said.

The asteroid stretches a quarter-mile across. Smaller objects come close all the time, Yeomans noted, but nothing this big will have ventured so close since 1976. And nothing this large will again until 2028.

Radar observations from California and Puerto Rico will help scientists ascertain whether the asteroid is pockmarked with craters and holds any water-bearing minerals or even frozen water.

Amateur astronomers would need a 6-inch-or-bigger telescope and know exactly where to look to spot it.

Astronomers consider 2005 YU55 a C-type asteroid — one containing carbon-based materials. “It’s not just a whirling rock like most of them,” Yeomans said.

As for an actual strike by an asteroid this size, that’s estimated to occur once every 100,000 years or so.

An asteroid named Apophis — estimated to be 885 feet across — will venture extremely close on April 13, 2029 — but will not strike.

Scientists said information gleaned from 2005 YU55, as well as other asteroids, will prove useful if and when it becomes necessary to deflect an incoming Armageddon-style rock.

Read: We are not alone – asteroid discovered in Earth’s orbit>

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