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Asteroid Warning System Found ‘City-Killer’ Object Heading Toward Earth

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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NASA’s new asteroid warning system detected a large “city-killer” asteroid hurtling toward Earth less than a week before it narrowly missed.

The rock, officially named 2016 UR36, was first detected Oct. 25 by a telescope in Hawaii and passed by Earth five days later. The asteroid missed by a distance of only 310,000 miles, around 1.3 times further away than the Moon. That’s incredibly close in space terms.

2016 UR36 could be up to 82 feet across, roughly comparable in size to the meteor that exploded over Russia in February 2013, causing hundreds of injuries.

If 2016 UR36 had slammed into Earth, it would have struck with a force 55 times stronger than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima near the end of World War II. That’s more than enough force to level a city.

NASA director Charles Bolden told reporters in 2013 that the only response to a such a late detection of an asteroid set to collide with Earth was to “Pray.”

Global asteroid detection programs found more than 15,176 near-Earth objects of all sizes with 1,562 new near-Earth objects being identified this year alone, according to International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planets Center.   These newly discovered near-Earth objects are part of a much larger population of more than 700,000 known asteroids in our Solar System.

NASA and its European partners are now focused on finding objects that are 450 feet in diameter or larger, which could devastate a city or country if they struck Earth.

In the event an asteroid couldn’t be prevented from hitting Earth, the Planetary Defense Coordination Office would work with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Defense, and other federal agencies to coordinate disaster response.

The federal “omnibus” budget approved last month includes $50 million for near-earth object observations and planetary defense, up from just $4 million in 2010.

Four asteroids came uncomfortably close to Earth early last month, according to NASA’s Asteroid and Comet Watch.

A different asteroid came disturbingly close to Earth in March, and was 16 times closer to Earth than the Moon. It actually passed closer to the world than many communications satellites. Though Earth is safe for now, NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies identifies a 1-in-250-million chance the asteroid could impact Earth on Sept. 28, 2017.

NASA created the anti-asteroid Planetary Defense Coordination Office in January, to defend Earth from impacts that could potentially end humanity.

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