Another asteroid threatens doom

A new asteroid has been spotted on a collision course with Earth and astronomers say the risk of impact is the highest yet known.
The space rock – labelled 2004 VD17 – threatens to slam into our planet on May 4, 2102, with a force of 10,000 megatons.
It is about 500 yards long and its impact would create a crater the size of a city and cause devastation for hundreds of miles around.
VD17, which weighs nearly a billion tons and will pack a punch equivalent to all the world’s nuclear weapons put together, was first spotted in November 2004.
Astronomers swiftly recognised it as a near-earth object or NEO meaning it follows an orbit that regularly brings it perilously close to the Earth.
At the time they estimated there was a one-in-3,000 risk of a collision. But now they have upgraded the danger to around one in 1,000.
The risk is still very small. Nasa expert David Morrison says: “Fortunately, it is nearly a century before the close pass from VD17.
“This should provide ample time to refine the orbit.”
Dr Morrison hopes that this will show that VD17 will miss the Earth – but instead it could confirm our latest date with Armageddon.
Numerous asteroids are known with orbits that send them flying past the Earth. Astronomers have still not ruled out an impact with a space rock called Apophis in 2036.
That asteroid, which is about 300 yards across, will just miss us on a previous pass in 2009.
Last year, Congress ordered Nasa to spend $20million a year on a major operation to protect Earth from asteroids.
They were instructed to focus on finding and tracking all space rocks 100 metres or more wide. They were also told to devise methods of deflecting any found on an Armageddon-style collision course with us.
Congress said their goal must be to catalogue and monitor 90 per cent of hazardous asteroids by 2015.

© Paul Sutherland. Unauthorised reproduction forbidden.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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