PARIS (AFP) Aug 26, 2004
A rock measuring less than 10 metres (33 feet) across zipped past the Earth at the closest distance ever detected, but it would not have posed any threat if it had struck our planet, astronomers said Thursday.
The "very small" asteroid missed the Earth on March 31 by the wafer-thin gap of 6,500 kilometers (4,000 miles), according to an email circulated by the international network NEO News (NEO stands for Near-Earth Object).
Robot telescopes operated by NASA in New Mexico under the Spaceguard Survey to track potential threats from asteroids, spotted the object, 2004 FU 162, just a few hours before the flyby.
"It would have exploded harmlessly in the upper atmosphere had it hit," the circular said.
Given the large population of asteroids of this size -- a population estimated to be a couple of hundred million in the Solar System -- the statistical chance of a flyby is "more than once a year" and the risk of an actual impact is rated once every several years.
"This event is not particularly rare, except that (the telescopes) had the good fortune to notice it," NEO News said.
All rights reserved. © 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.