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Asteroid Close to Earth

Asteroid 2001 YB5 was only discovered in December and it is now extremely close to the Earth. Although there is no danger of collision, astronomers say its proximity reminds us just how many objects there are in space that could strike our planet with devastating consequences. Astronomers and archaeologists suspect that our planet is struck by an object like 2001 YB5 about every 5,000 years, but this is a guess that?s not based on any definite evidence.

The asteroid passed less than twice the Moon?s distance from us - just 510,000 miles away - on Monday, January 7, which is extremely close in cosmic terms. YB5?s brightness suggests it?s a rocky body about 328 yards wide, which is large enough to wipe out an entire country if it struck the Earth.

It?s not big enough to be a global killer - in order to wipe all life off the face of the Earth an object would have to be a little over half a mile in size. If the impact point were London, then scientists estimate that not only would the city be destroyed but France and the part of the English countryside as well. If it struck the ocean, the destruction would be more widespread, since it would trigger tsunamis that would devastate coastal cities.

It was discovered in early December by the Neat (Near Earth Asteroid Tracking) survey telescope at Mount Palomar in California. As it approached the Earth, it was observed by astronomers Jana Ticha and Milos Tichy at the Klet Observatory in the Czech Republic, who tracked it on January 5. It?s called an Apollo object because its orbit crosses the orbits of Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury. It circles the Sun every 1,321 days.

Astronomers say it?s ?potentially hazardous? because there?s a small chance it may strike the Earth sometime in the future if its orbit becomes slightly deflected. The only other known object that will come closer to the Earth is asteroid 1999 AN10, which will pass a bit closer on August 7, 2027.

Dr. Benny Peiser of Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K. says, ?The fact that this object was discovered less than a month ago leads to the question of if we would have had enough time to do anything about it had it been on a collision course with us. Of course the answer is no; there is nothing we could have done about it.

?It is a reminder of the objects that are out there,? says Peiser. ?It is a reminder of what is going to happen unless we track them more efficiently than we do and make better preparations to defend our planet.?

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