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Surprise asteroid nearly hits home

Surprise asteroid nearly hits home

By Richard Stenger

(CNN) -- An asteroid the size of a football field passed extremely close to Earth last week but it remained undetected until days later, according to astronomers.

The space rock missed our planet last week by only 75,000 miles (120,000 km), about one-third the distance to the moon, making the near collision one of the closest ever recorded.

Cruising at 6.2 miles (10 km) per second, the big boulder could have unleashed some major firepower had it struck, according to the NEO (Near Earth Objects) Information Center in Leicester, England.

The destructive force might have been comparable to an asteroid or comet that exploded over Siberia in 1908, which flattened 77 square miles (2,000 square km) of trees, according to the NEO.

NASA animation of the orbital path of 2002 MN 

But the asteroid, designated 2002 MN, is not in the same league as potential killer rocks measuring more than 0.6 miles (1 km) in diameter, some of which are known to lurk in our space neighborhood between Mars and Venus.

"2002 MN is a lightweight among asteroids and incapable of causing damage on a global scale, such as the object associated with the extinction of the dinosaurs," the NEO center said in a statement.

2002 MN was first spotted on June 17 by scientists with the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project in Socorro, New Mexico, three days after it gave the Earth a close shave.

Nevertheless, the big boulder should not pose a risk for some time.

"This asteroid is not something to worry about," said Donald Yeomans, head of the Near Earth Objects program office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We have calculated its orbit several decades into the future and it does not threaten Earth."

The closest near collision in recent decades took place in 1994, when asteroid 1994XL1 passed within 65,000 miles (105,000 km) of our planet.


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