Huge asteroid to whip past Earth tonight as NASA warns of space rocks

Feb 17, 2014
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An asteroid 885 feet across and traveling at 27,000 mph will hurtle past Earth later today, with the close - astronomically speaking - fly-by of the space rock named 2000 EM26 reignites NASA warnings into how aware we are of potentially dangerous debris near our planet. Dubbed a Near Earth Object (NEO), 2000 EM26 will pass around 0.018 AU (roughly 1.62m miles) from Earth, with astronomers insisting that the planet is under no threat; streaming video from remote-controlled telescopes will be available to track its flight.

Telescope-connecting project Slooh is streaming footage from the Canary Islands of 2000 EM26 from 6pm PT/9pm ET. The "Potentially Hazardous Asteroid" is around three times the size of a football field, though won't be visible to most casual astronomers as it is comparatively dim in the night sky.

While they may not be bright, that doesn't mean asteroids aren't potentially dangerous. Although 2000 EM26 won't strike the Earth, it comes very nearly on the one year anniversary of a space rock hitting Russia, injuring around 1,000 people and damaging buildings in the process.

Scientists were able to eventually figure out where the astroid had come from, but more important is being able to predict them before they arrive. That, NASA says, is still something we're patchy on, despite
the recent reactivation of the WISE spacecraft as a rock-spotter called NEOWISE.

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Back in March 2013, the US space agency warned that budgetary cuts could leave asteroid-spotting projects perilously under-funded, particularly when it came to rocks such as that which hit Russia. Since it came from the direction of the sun, it was obscured by glare and so went unnoticed.

As it stands, NASA spends around $20m per year to hunt for potentially hazardous asteroids through its Near Earth Object Observation Program. The agency's 2014 budget earmarked $105m to spot and capture an asteroid, as well as to increase partnerships - some of which with the private sector, such as the NEOShield project - and conduct studies for mitigating potential threats.

In November 2013, NASA inked a deal with Planetary Resources to crowdsource the process of watching out for NEOs. It follows the Grand Asteroid Challenge aiming to encourage private sector agencies to get involved, not to mention the development of an asteroid-spotting sensor which would rely on infrared rather than visible light.

Despite those efforts, only a fraction of the NEOs out there are being identified, something NASA and other experts are increasingly worried about. Happily that shouldn't include 2000 EM26 later today.

Update: Unfortunately technical problems left Slooh unable to track the asteroid, and now it's considered lost.


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