NASA say that one of the largest asteroids to pass close to our planet in recent times is due to fly past earth on Saturday.
Astronomers will be keeping an eye on the asteroid, 86666 (2000 FL10), though it is expected to skim pass our planet safely.
The giant lump of rock is currently hurtling through space at 40,000 miles an hour. The asteroid’s exact size is still unclear though it is estimated to be between 0.7miles metres and 1.6 miles wide – more than 15 times bigger than other asteroids currently on Nasa’s radar.
A collision would be nothing short of catastrophic with the rock fragment thought to be around a quarter of the size of Mount Everest.
Nasa has released an animated projection of the asteroid’s path, which you can watch below. 86666 appears from the top left of the screen as it nears Earth’s orbit.
It makes 2014-YB35, which had worried astronomers around the world watching the skies in March, pale into insignificance.
The impact would eclipse the devastating 1908 Tunguska Event which saw a 50-metre wide asteroid crash into Siberia.
It flattened around 80 million trees and sent a shock wave across Russia measuring five on the Richter scale. The event is held by scientists as a benchmark for the catastrophic consequence of an asteroid impact with earth.
Thankfully despite Nasa labelling it a ‘near-Earth event’ 86666 is several million miles away and unlikely to hit Earth.
Bill Napier, professor of astronomy at the University of Buckinghamshire, said if a sizeable asteroid hit Earth it could “take out a small country”.
He claimed although the risk from 86666 was small there is always the chance of another Tunguska Event from this or another asteroid orbiting Earth.
He said: “The danger is in the future if asteroids like this are nudged off their orbit they can effectively become missiles.
“There are a lot of asteroids out there with the potential to be hazardous which have not been discovered.”
He said the risks are bigger compared to 1908 because of the increase in population density around the world.
He added: “If the Tunguska event had hit London it would have destroyed the region out to the M25.
“However if it hit the sea there would be very little impact.
“If one of these things does strike in the wrong place it could easily take out a small country.”
NASA’s Near Earth Object Programme puts the asteroid on course to pass within 16 million miles. In astronomical terms this is only a tiny distance and close enough to prompt astronomers to watch closely until it passes safely.
Experts warn a collision of this magnitude would trigger an explosion similar to millions of megatons of TNT and would be capable of killing 1.5 billion people.
The threat of a collision last year prompted world experts to set aside a day to warn of the dangers of space objects – Potentially Dangerous Asteroids (PHAs).
Initiative co-founder Grigorij Richters warned there are thousands which have not been identified which could ”destroy life”.
Science Advisor Rusty Schweickart said 99 per cent of the dangerous asteroids currently hurtling through space are currently undetected.
He said: “This is the first organised opportunity for the general public to let their space agencies know that discovering the 99 per cent of currently unknown but dangerous asteroids that might hit with no warning is a high priority for them.
“It enrolls the world public in our planet-wide effort to protect life on Earth from this preventable natural disaster.”
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