Asteroid will buzz, miss Earth _ unlike meteor

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Schweickart noted that 500,000 to 1 million sizable near-Earth objects _ asteroids or comets _ are out there. Yet less than 1 percent _ fewer than 10,000 _ have been inventoried.

Humanity has to do better, he said. The foundation is working to build and launch an infrared space telescope to find and track threatening asteroids.

DA14 _ discovered by Spanish astronomers last February _ is “such a close call” that it is a “celestial torpedo across the bow of spaceship Earth,” Schweickart said in a phone interview Thursday.

Astronomers organized asteroid-encounter parties for Friday and experts just about everywhere were giving flyby rundowns.

NASA’s deep-space antenna in California’s Mojave Desert was ready to collect radar images, but not until eight hours after the closest approach given the United States’ poor positioning for the big event.

Scientists at NASA’s Near-Earth Object program at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory estimate that an object of this size makes a close approach like this every 40 years. The likelihood of a strike is every 1,200 years.

If a killer asteroid was, indeed, incoming, a spacecraft could, in theory, be launched to nudge the asteroid out of Earth’s way, changing its speed and the point of intersection. A second spacecraft would make a slight alteration in the path of the asteroid and ensure it never intersects with the planet again, Schweickart said.

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Online:

NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/asteroidflyby.html

B612 Foundation: http://b612foundation.org/

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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