Sunday, October 09, 2011

2 Small Asteroids Zoom Between Earth and Moon's Orbit

A small asteroid zipped by Earth well inside the orbit of the moon today (Sept. 30), the second space rock encounter for our planet this week. Both asteroids posed no threat to Earth, scientists say.

"Small asteroid 2011 SM173 just passed Earth at a safe distance of 180,000 miles (290,000 km or .8 lunar distance)," scientists with NASA's Asteroid Watch program announced in a Twitter post today.

Asteroid 2011 SM173 was discovered yesterday by astronomers and is about 56 feet (17 meters) wide, making it about the size of a house. Its flyby came just four days after the pass of another space rock — the asteroid 2011 SE58 —which actually came even closer to Earth.

The 33-foot (10-m) wide asteroid 2011 SE58 slipped within 147,000 miles (236,573 km) of Earth during an evening flyby on Monday (Sept. 26), according to Asteroid Watch scientists.

The average distance between Earth and the moon is about 238,900 miles (384,402 km).

No threat to Earth
Both asteroids were too small to threaten Earth with a serious impact. If they had barreled into Earth, they likely would have burned up completely in Earth's atmosphere, the researchers said.

"Rocky asteroids the size of 2011 SE58 are not considered hazardous as they break up in the atmosphere & cause no ground damage," Asteroid Watch scientists wrote.

Asteroid 2011 SE58 was discovered by skywatchers on Sept. 21, according to database maintained by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

By coincidence, the asteroid flybys this week occurred just as NASA announced the latest results from its efforts to find the largest near-Earth asteroids, objects that could potentially endanger Earth.

NASA's asteroid census has discovered about 90 percent of the largest near-Earth asteroids and revealed that the population of mid-size space rocks (asteroids about 3,300 feet, or 1,006 m, wide) is far lower than previously thought.

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