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An asteroid is hurtling towards Earth - and NASA says we may be able to see it fly by

Published 17/02/2016

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It could be a close call when an asteroid zooms towards us next month.

Asteroid 2013 TX68 flew past Earth at a comfortable distance of about 1.3 million miles two years ago - but it’s due to flyby again around 5 March.

Graphic indicates the cloud of possible locations asteroid 2013 TX68 will be in at the time of its closest approach to Earth during its safe flyby of our planet on March 5. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Graphic indicates the cloud of possible locations asteroid 2013 TX68 will be in at the time of its closest approach to Earth during its safe flyby of our planet on March 5. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Experts believe that this time it will come much closer. NASA say it will still miss our planet, but should come close enough for us earthlings to be able to see it with a telescope.

It could fly past Earth as far out as 9 million miles or as close as 11,000 miles. The variation in possible closest approach distances is due to the wide range of possible trajectories for this object, since it was tracked for only a short time after discovery.

Scientists at NASA's Centre for NEO Studies (CNEOS) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have determined there is no possibility that this object could impact Earth during the flyby next month.

But they have identified an extremely remote chance that this small asteroid could impact on Sep. 28, 2017, with odds of no more than 1-in-250-million. Flybys in 2046 and 2097 have an even lower probability of impact.

"The possibilities of collision on any of the three future flyby dates are far too small to be of any real concern," said Paul Chodas, manager of CNEOS. "I fully expect any future observations to reduce the probability even more."

Asteroid 2013 TX68 is estimated to be about 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter. By comparison, the asteroid that broke up in the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, three years ago was approximately 65 feet (20 meters) wide.

If an asteroid the size of 2013 TX68 were to enter Earth's atmosphere, it would likely produce an air burst with about twice the energy of the Chelyabinsk event.

Chodas added: "This asteroid's orbit is quite uncertain, and it will be hard to predict where to look for it. There is a chance that the asteroid will be picked up by our asteroid search telescopes when it safely flies past us next month, providing us with data to more precisely define its orbit around the sun."

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