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Mysterious 55 Million Ton Asteroid Approaches Earth
Posted In: NASA Articles  5/5/11
By: Chris Capps

Galaxy_1.jpg
With scientists looking up at the sky with interest, it appears a 55 million ton asteroid may soon be approaching Earth and getting closer than the distance between the Earth and the moon soon.  But how close will the object get?  And how did it manage to stay out of headlines in the midst of the chaos of our current year?  And if this sounds like just another asteroid passing by, it's not.  It is actually the largest to ever to get this close.

The asteroid, also known as YU55 which is a little over 1,300 feet in diameter will be passing by the planet at an estimated distance of just over 200,000 miles as it reaches its nearest point on November 8th.  It is currently the largest asteroid to ever reach this distance with a size easily capable of causing a major catastrophe if it did indeed impact the planet's surface.  

How concerned should we be?  As a matter of likelihood, scientists are saying the asteroid will not likely reach the planet's surface or come any closer than the 200,000 as it passes by.  But skeptics of NASA's ability to make calculations such as this say it's only a matter of time before a miscalculation is made and one of these massive objects not only passes by the planet, but passes right into it.  An asteroid composed primarily of rock hitting Earth at a 90 degree angle of this size traveling 25 miles per second would be equivalent to a 19,149 million tons of TNT detonated on the ground.  It would create a crater just over ten miles in diameter and almost 3,600 feet deep.  It's estimated that an asteroid of this class hits the Earth once every 16,000 years.  It would be more than enough to devastate a city and could have far reaching consequences elsewhere in the Earth depending on where it hit.

Of course NASA scientists are confident we have nothing to fear from this rock as it sails through the sky.  And it's not even the largest object that will be approaching Earth in the near future.  In 2028 the Asteroid Apophis is expected to approach the Earth and just barely miss it.  Apophis raised fears in 2004 when scientists expected an unprecedented high probability for impact based on initial calculations.  As time went on, however, it was discovered that the asteroid would likely not hit in 2028 or when it returned in 2036.  The object is approximately 835 feet in diameter and could cause significantly more damage than YU55 if it impacted with Earth - something scientists admit is far more likely than an impact with YU55 - although still not terribly likely.  And while Apophis, named after the Ancient Egyptian demon of chaos, may not be causing too much sleep lost at NASA at the moment, scientists are hoping to recalculate the trajectory in the near future to see how the change has been affected by gravity from nearby objects - including other asteroids.


 

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