Asteroid tracking close to Earth - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Asteroid tracking close to Earth

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- It's a rare occurrence in the realm of space, but on Friday an asteroid half the size of a football field will come extremely close to Earth.

You may have heard there's an asteroid coming this way but experts say there's nothing to fear.

Talk of an asteroid passing by Earth may conjure up images of the movie Armageddon, but scientists say don't worry about the rock traveling at several hundred thousand miles an hour in this direction.

"Not on this flyby, even though it's coming about 17,000 miles from the Earth which is within a whisker, it's no chance for an impact," said University of Minnesota Physics and Astronomy professor Dr. Charles Woodward.

17,000 miles away is closer to the Earth than our Geostationary Satellites which orbit approximately 23,000 miles away.  Experts also say a collision with one of those satellites is slim to none.

"The likelihood of a collision, balls on a pool table is relatively low, but people are monitoring that," Woodward said.

For reference, this piece of space debris is about half the size of a football field. If it were to hit, which again it won't, damage would be catastrophic.

"Some of the short term effects would be complete devastation of urban areas," Woodward said.

"In the past as evidence by looking at the moon through a pair of binoculars you can see that there's been a lot of impacting that has occurred on the planet," said Mayo High School Planetarium Director and Astronomy teacher Larry Mascotti.

The last asteroid to impact the Earth similar to the size of the one passing by us later this week was in 1908.  That hit in Siberia.

"It leveled many hundreds of square miles of timber.  Fortunately it fell in an unpopulated area or the results could have been interesting," Woodward said.

In comparison, that's greater than the size of New York City, not to mention the debris ejected into the atmosphere

The asteroid that helped wipe out the dinosaurs was about six miles in diameter.  Dr. Woodward said those extinction asteroids come around every 100,000 million years on average.  The one that hit Siberia happens once every 100 years.

Even after this asteroid passes us by, astronomers will be on the lookout for the next one that could pose a threat.  The planetarium at Mayo High School shows that.

"These particular lines that we're looking at are all of the other objects, some of them maybe the size of Rochester or smaller that have orbits that travel around the sun, and some of them approach Earth, like the asteroid that's currently in the news," Mascotti said.

Right now there isn't any known space debris headed for a collision course with Earth, but as the technology to find them gets better that could and will likely change.

"There's always surprises out there and Bruce Willis Should be ready," Woodward said.

If you want to see the asteroid, you're going to have to grab your binoculars and get on a plane to Europe.  We won't be able to see it over here.

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