An asteroid impact could be mistaken for an attack by a Middle Eastern country and ?could certainly trigger a regional if not global nuclear exchange,? says Brian Marsden, an astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This assumes that the country hit by the asteroid has the ability for a nuclear response.

While several countries actively search for asteroids and are aware of the potential dangers, many nations do little research into this threat. Small asteroids that could cause significant localized or even regional damage hit Earth every few centuries, and though none are known to be on a collision course with Earth at the moment, experts say there is always a risk that one could strike without warning.

Marsden said he is concerned that a Middle Eastern country like Iraq might not know what hit them. ?Iraq really has little or no practical ability to differentiate between an incoming impactor and a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile,? he says.

Marsden says that the possible relationship between an impact and a nuclear exchange is ?nothing more than a theoretical debate. However, since 911 it is no longer theoretical.?

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