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Relax! NASA says asteroid has little chance of hitting Earth

Relax! NASA says asteroid has little chance of hitting Earth

The space agency throws some cold water on speculation that giant asteroid could hit in 2032

OK, everybody needs to stop freaking out about asteroid 2013 TV135.

That's the basic message from NASA about the asteroid, which made a relatively close approach to Earth on September 16. The asteroid is the size of about four football fields and came within 4.2 million miles of our planet -- about three quarters of the distance to Jupiter's orbit.

What had a lot of people worked up were reports yesterday that the asteroid would be back in Earth's stellar neighborhood in 2032 and could crash into our planet. While that scenario isn't impossible, it would be a long, long shot, according to NASA.

If the asteroid comes back around in 19 years, NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office said the chances it could impact Earth is one in 63,000.

Once astronomers from NASA and the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass. study the asteroid, NASA expects the odds of it hitting the Earth will be dramatically reduced or eliminated all together.

"To put it another way, that puts the current probability of no impact in 2032 at about 99.998%," said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program. "This is a relatively new discovery. With more observations, I fully expect we will be able to significantly reduce, or rule out entirely, any impact probability for the foreseeable future."

Tracking near-Earth asteroids has been getting a lot of attention in recent years.

Though the idea has met resistance from Congress, NASA announced an effort to capture an asteroid and pull it into Earth's orbit so astronauts can study it.

This past spring, a scientist at the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State University described a plan to deal with any asteroid that might crash into Earth. Bong Wie, director of the research center, said scientists are developing a plan in which a spacecraft would take a nuclear warhead to any asteroid headed toward the Earth.

And in August, NASA said it is bringing back a retired spacecraft - the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer - to search for potentially dangerous near-Earth objects.

The spacecraft discovered tens of thousands of asteroids throughout the solar system between January 2010 and February 2011. Once retired, most of its electronics were turned off. NASA is powering it back up to search for asteroids coming dangerously close to Earth.

This NASA diagram shows the orbit (in blue) of asteroid 2013 TV135, which has just a 1-in-63,000 chance of impacting Earth in 2032. (Image: NASA)

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

Read more about emerging technologies in Computerworld's Emerging Technologies Topic Center.

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