Another huge asteroid passed by Earth on June 14, and this time it was even closer to us than the moon. Although it passed by on Friday, it wasn?t detected until the following Monday, so we would have been taken completely by surprise.

Asteroid 2002MN, approximately 50 yards by 120 yards in size, got to within 75,000 miles of the Earth and was traveling at a speed of 23,000 miles per hour. It?s now headed out into space again and we can all breathe a sigh of relief that we have escaped the fate of the dinosaurs once again. Actually, this asteroid wasn?t big enough to cause global devastation; it would take an object several miles in diameter to do that. However, if it had hit us, it would have had the same impact as the 1908 hit in Tunguska, Siberia, which flattened 800 square miles of forest?except that it might have flattened a major city, instead.

“It’s a good thing it missed the Earth, because we never saw it coming,” says Steve Maran of the American Astronomical Society. “The asteroid wasn’t discovered until three days after it passed its closest approach to our planet.” This is not a statement designed to reassure us!

LINEAR is NASA?s new program that aims to find 90 percent of all near-Earth objects, including asteroids, that measure .62 mile or more in diameter by 2008. Let?s hope they down to business soon.

And 2002MN may be back. “There is a slim chance it could hit in 2061,” Marsen says. He puts that chance at about one in 100,000, in case you want to bet on it, and adds, “At some level, it behooves us to look out for these things.”

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