Giant asteroid set to whizz past Earth

A huge asteroid will pass closer to Earth than the moon Tuesday, giving scientists a rare chance for study without having to go through the time and expense of launching a probe, officials said.

Washington: A 400-metre-wide asteroid will slip close by Earth early tomorrow morning, but it poses no threat of hitting the planet during the close encounter, NASA astronomers have said.

The massive asteroid, called 2005 YU55, will fly inside the orbit of the moon, coming within 201,700 miles (324,600km) closer to Earth on Tuesday at 23:28 GMT (4:58 a.m. India time on Wednesday) when it makes its closest approach.

However, 2005 YU55 will neither hit the moon nor our planet during its close encounter, said Don Yeomans, director of NASA`s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

While the space rock whizzes past the planet at a clip of 30,000 miles per hour (13 km/s), the moon will be about a fourth of its way to the opposite side of Earth, and like two ships passing in the night, they will miss each other by more than 150,000 miles (240,000km), he said.

"It would be a significant event on the moon, certainly," Yeomans was quoted as saying by LiveScience.

"It wouldn`t move the moon around at all, but it would cause a significant impact crater... at least four kilometres wide. That`s significant, but still a pretty small crater in terms of the hierarchy of lunar craters," he said.

"There is no chance that this object will collide with the Earth or moon," Yeomans added.

Scientists suspect YU 55 has been visiting Earth for thousands of years, but because gravitational tugs from the planets occasionally tweak its path, they cannot tell for sure
how long the asteroid has been in its present orbit.

Meanwhile, the huge Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico and a NASA antenna in California are bombarding asteroid 2005 YU55 with radar signals to get a rare and close look at a huge space rock.



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