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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Asteroid may be on course to hit Earth in future.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A GIANT asteroid could be on course to hit Earth causing massive devastation, space experts revealed today.

An international team including NASA experts warned a 560m wide space rock has been discovered heading this way.

If it did hit Earth it would blast a crater several miles wide and could devastate a city the size of London, wreaking death and destruction for hundreds of miles in every direction.

En route ... asteroid '1999 RQ36' was discovered in 1999
En route ... asteroid '1999 RQ36' was discovered in 1999
Anyone concerned by the warning has one thing to be thankful for — if it does hit it is most likely to happen in 2182.

That gives scientists 172 years to work out how to deal with it.

The asteroid was discovered in 1999 and is dubbed 1999 RQ36.

The scientists had labelled it a "potentially hazardous asteroid" of the Apollo group because its orbit brings it close to Earth.

But it was then considered a much lower risk.

Now scientists from Spain, Italy and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California have used computer models to produce a more accurate forecast of its path.

Their results are published in the science journal Icarus.

The asteroid's orbit has been fairly well known thanks to 290 visual observations and 13 measurements using radar, say the scientists.

The chances of the asteroid hitting our planet are one-in-a-thousand but in cosmic terms these odds are high enough for the threat to be taken extremely seriously.

Maria Eugenia Sansaturio, from Valladolid University, Spain, said: "The total impact probability of asteroid 1999 RQ36 can be estimated at 0.00092 - approximately one-in-a-thousand chance - but what is most surprising is that over half of this chance corresponds to 2182."

UK crater expert Dr Emily Baldwin, of Astronomy Now magazine, said: "Calculations suggest this asteroid would produce a crater less than 10km wide and 500m deep - but on a city that is obviously bad news.

"If it hit the ocean it could create a tsunami with the power to wipe out coastal towns.

"It would be nothing on the sale of the impact that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, but you wouldn't want to be at ground zero."

Scientists had previously suggested sending a space mission called OSIRIS-REx to collect samples of the cosmic missile.

Bill Cutlip of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre said: "This asteroid is a time capsule from before the birth of our solar system. You can't underestimate the value of a pristine sample."

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