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CNN: Mile-Wide Asteroid May Hit Earth In 2028

From: Stig_Agermose@online.pol.dk (Stig Agermose)
Date: Thu, 12 Mar 1998 10:11:11 +0100
Fwd Date: Thu, 12 Mar 1998 12:45:44 -0500
Subject: CNN: Mile-Wide Asteroid May Hit Earth In 2028

Found on CNN Interactive (animation from Sandia National Lab). The
links are preceded by black squares. URL:



Mile-wide asteroid on course for near-miss with Earth

In this story:

=B0But not 'til year 2028
=B0Should pass 30,000 miles from Earth
=B0Impact: 2 million atomic bombs
=B0Related stories and sites

March 12, 1998
Web posted at: 12:07 a.m. EST (0507 GMT)

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Astronomers say a mile-wide asteroid
described as "the most dangerous one we've found so far" may be on
course for a near-miss -- or even a collision -- with Earth in the year

Some astronomers say the asteroid will come within 30,000 miles of the
Earth, and they agree with Dr. Brian Marsden of the International
Astronomical Union (IAU) who says, "Chances are it will miss" Earth.

"The chance of an actual collision is small, but one is not entirely
out of the question," says a notice filed by the IAU.

But there are those, including asteroid specialist Jack G. Hills, who
find the asteroid designated as 1997 XF11 frightening.

"It is the first really big one to pass this close," says Hills, a Los
Alamos National Laboratory scientist. "This is the most dangerous one
we've found so far. It scares me, it really does. An object this big
hitting the Earth has the potential of killing many, many people."

"It has enormous destructive potential," agreed Steven Maran of the
American Astronomical Society, but he added it will take several more
years of observations before experts are certain of its path.

Asteroid 1997 XF11 was discovered December 6 by Jim Scotti of the
University of Arizona Spacewatch program, and has been added to a list
of 108 asteroids considered to be "potentially hazardous objects."

Should pass 30,000 miles from Earth

The Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams -- which tracks asteroids
-- conducted further observations that determined 1997 XF11 should pass
just under 30,000 miles from Earth on October 26, 2028.

The estimate, Maran said, has a margin of error of more than 180,000
miles. This means a collision with Earth is theoretically possible, but
uncertain at this time, he said.

Astronomers say the asteroid is projected to pass within 30,000 miles
of the Earth on October 26, 2028 =BF 

Better estimates will be generated as astronomers plot the course of
the asteroid during the next few years.


(Astronomers say that even if it were on a path to hit Earth,
technology might be available by then that would be capable of
deflecting the asteroid.)

"What would be scary is if it were three days from now or three weeks
or even three years," Marsden says. "Thirty years is just right because
it's far enough in the future. If it were going to hit us, and that's a
big if, we would have time to plan to do something about it."

Marsden says, "It was quite startling to find that the nominal orbit
that we were using brought it as close as we did. I have not seen
anything like that."

An asteroid 6 to 10 miles across collided with the Earth about 65
million years ago and is thought to have caused the extinction of the
dinosaurs, along with 75 percent of all other species.

Impact: 2 million atomic bombs

Hills said an asteroid the size of 1997 XF11 colliding with the Earth
at more than 17,000 miles an hour would explode with an energy of about
320,000 megatons of dynamite. That equals almost 2 million
Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs.

Such an asteroid hitting the ocean, Hills said, would create a tidal
wave hundreds of feet high, causing extreme flooding along thousands of
miles of coastline.

"If one like this hit in the Atlantic Ocean, all of the coastal cities
would be scoured by the tsunami," said Hills. "Where cities stood,
there would be only mudflats."

=B0Animation from Sandia National Lab =BF

If it struck land, he said, it would blast a crater 20 miles across and
so clog the sky with dust and vapor that the sun would be darkened "for
weeks, if not months."

Marsden said the announcement about the asteroid was meant to alert
astronomers, not to frighten the public. "It's not intended to be scary
or alarmist," he said. "The Earth as a target is not very big."

Technology by the year 2028 could probably deal with any asteroid,
Marsden said.

"Suppose we knew it were going to hit ... That is the time to start
doing something about it and sending missions to it. A little
deflection, that's what you need, and with time on your side you don't
need much of a deflection."

He added that, "If it really is as close as 30,000 miles it will really
be quite bright" and would be visible in Europe -- where it will be
evening -- with the naked eye.

"It would actually be a rather nice thing to see."

Reuters contributed to this report.

Related sites:

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window

=B0The International Astronomical Union
=B0Los Alamos National Laboratory
=B0American Astronomical Society Home Page
=B0Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Watch Science & Technology Week on CNN for more sci-tech stories.

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