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Giant asteroid could hit Earth in 2014

Artist's impression of asteroid over Earth

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Near Earth Object
2003 QQ47

LONDON, England (Reuters) -- A giant asteroid is heading for Earth and could hit in 2014, U.S. astronomers have warned British space monitors.

But for those fearing Armageddon, don't be alarmed -- the chances of a catastrophic collision are just one in 909,000.

Asteroid "2003 QQ47" will be closely monitored over the next two months. Its potential strike date is March 21, 2014, but astronomers say that any risk of impact is likely to decrease as further data is gathered.

On impact, it could have the effect of 20 million Hiroshima atomic bombs, a spokesman for the British government's Near Earth Object Information Centre told BBC radio.

The Centre issued the warning about the asteroid after the giant rock was first observed in New Mexico by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research Program.

"The Near Earth Object will be observable from Earth for the next two months and astronomers will continue to track it over this period," said Dr Alan Fitzsimmons, one of the expert team advising the Centre.

Asteroids such as 2003 QQ47 are chunks of rock left over from the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. Most are kept at a safe distance from the Earth in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

But the gravitational influence of giant planets such as Jupiter can nudge asteroids out of these safe orbits and send them plunging towards Earth.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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