November 5, 2011 in Nation/World

Massive rock headed Earth’s way

Associated Press
 

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – An asteroid bigger than an aircraft carrier will dart between the Earth and moon Tuesday – the closest encounter by such a huge rock in 35 years.

But scientists say not to worry. It won’t hit.

“We’re extremely confident, 100 percent confident, that this is not a threat,” said the manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program, Don Yeomans. “But it is an opportunity.”

The asteroid named 2005 YU55 is being watched by ground antennae as it approaches from the direction of the sun. The last time it came within so-called shouting distance was 200 years ago.

Closest approach will occur at 3:28 p.m. PST Tuesday when the asteroid passes within 202,000 miles of Earth. The moon will be just under 150,000 miles from the asteroid at the time of closest approach.

Both the Earth and moon are safe – “this time,” said Jay Melosh, professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue University.

If 2005 YU55 were to plow into Earth, it would blast out a crater four miles across and 1,700 feet deep, according to Melosh’s calculations. Think a magnitude 7 earthquake and 70-foot-high tsunami waves.

Scientists have been tracking the slowly spinning, spherical, dark-colored object since its discovery in 2005, and they are positive it won’t do any damage.

The asteroid stretches a quarter-mile across. Smaller objects come close all the time, Yeomans noted, but nothing this big will have ventured so close since 1976. And nothing this large will again until 2028.

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