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Astronomers 'Not Sure' How Close Asteroid Will Come

The asteroid is estimated to be 80 to 170 feet in length, and will pass by the planet sometime between 5:30 a.m. and 4:06 p.m. PST on March 7.

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    Astronomers have their eyes on the sky, watching for an asteroid to fly by on March 7. It’s called 2013 TX-68 after the year it was discovered, but will whiz by without causing damage. (Published Monday, Feb. 22, 2016)

    An asteroid traveling about 34,000 miles per hour is expected to whiz past Earth on March 7. Astronomers are confident the warehouse-sized space rock will not impact the planet, but at the same time are not sure exactly how close it will come.

    “It could be as close as 20,000 miles or as far as 10 million miles, so it’s a pretty big window,” astronomer Gerald McKeegan said.

    McKeegan confirmed the existence of asteroid “2013 TX68” at Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, after scientists in Arizona spotted it in October 2013. He says it likely came from the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars, and has been passing Earth about every couple of years.

    This time, however, it’s coming much closer.

    He estimates the asteroid to be 80 to 170 feet in length, and will pass by the planet sometime between 5:30 a.m. and 4:06 p.m. PST on March 7.

    “The asteroid is not going to hit us. There’s no concern about that. It will miss us. It’s just a matter of by how much,” McKeegan.

    Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory agree the asteroid will not impact Earth, but say they have a new, straight-forward technique in case an asteroid veers course in the future.

    “And that’s just slamming a spacecraft into an asteroid traveling at high speeds,” post-doctoral researcher Megan Bruck Syal said of Kinetic Impact. Syal is the lead author of a recent paper on the diversion technique, published in January.

    Syal says researchers are on track to test the powerful method on an asteroid in 2022; however, scientists say they need years of notice to implement the technique.

    McKeegan says at the moment, notice consists of days, not years.

    Scientists estimate there are 14,000 near-earth objects and believe there are a million more out there, according to McKeegan. More than 40 tons of pebby-to-fist sized rock falls on the earth daily, but burns up in the atmosphere.

    However, he says the worry is if a larger asteroid such as 2013 TX68 does make impact, it could create damage like a meteor did in Russia in 2013.

    “Because it exploded in the sky, the shock wave from the explosion did a lot of damage, injured quite a few people. That asteroid is smaller than the one we’re talking about now,” McKeegan said.

    Researchers at Chabot say the best chance to see the asteroid will be the weekend before March 7; however, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to observe.