September 2, 2003

Giant Asteroid May Hit Earth in 2014

LONDON (AP) -- An asteroid about two-thirds of a mile wide could hit the Earth on March 21, 2014, but don't lose any sleep between now and then - the chances of a collision are just 1 in 909,000, British astronomers said Tuesday.

Known as 2003 QQ47, the newly discovered asteroid will be observable from Earth for the next two months and will be closely watched during that time, the astronomers said.

In the unlikely event of it hitting Earth, the rock would have the force of 350,000 megatons, or eight million times more powerful than the nuclear bomb that U.S. forces dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II. On impact, the asteroid, with a mass of about 2,600 million tons would be traveling at 75,000 mph.

The asteroid's current orbit calculations are based on just 51 observations during a recent seven-day period, and the risk of a collision could fall as its movements are further tracked.

In any case, there is no cause for public concern at this point, said Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland, a member of the expert team advising the UK NEO (Near Earth Objects) Information Center, based in Leicester, England.

"There is some uncertainty about where it is going. In all probability, within the next month we will know its future orbit with an accuracy which will mean we will be able to rule out any impact," Fitzsimmons said.

"Previously this year, we have had several asteroids which have had much higher probabilities of colliding with the Earth in the next 100 years, and they have almost all been ruled out. I would say there is no cause for concern at all," he said.

The giant rock was first seen on Aug. 24 by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research Program, which is based in Socorro, New Mexico.

The observations were reported to the Minor Planet Center in Massachusetts, which records all new discoveries of asteroids and comets.

Asteroids such as 2003 QQ47 are chunks of rock left over from the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. Most are kept at a safe distance from Earth in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

But the gravitational pull of giant planets such as Jupiter can nudge asteroids out of these safe orbits and send them plunging into the Earth's neighborhood in space.


On the Net:

Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research Program


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