Astronomers got a ringside seat yesterday as an asteroid sped past the Earth in a cosmic near-miss. The space rock, the size of a mountain, could be seen gliding swiftly against the stars through backyard telescopes.
Asteroid 2004 XP14 came almost as close as the Moon at 5.44am UK time when it was already light in Britain. But stargazers in Australia and the west coast of America watched in awe as it sped by at 11 miles per second.
Amateur astronomer Dennis Simmons, of Brisbane, Australia, photographed the asteroid as a streak of light through his four-inch refracting telescope. He told Spaceweather.com: “The asteroid cleared the trees and then the fun began. This fella was motoring along – and I mean motoring!”
XP14 passed at a distance of around 269,000 miles – a hair’s breadth in cosmic terms.
If it had hit the Earth, it would have wiped out an area the size of the UK and caused global devastation. XP14 is one of the Apollo group of asteroids which are termed “potentially hazardous objects” because their orbits cross that of the Earth.
Nasa scientists used the 230ft Goldstone radar dish in California’s Mojave Desert during the close approach to bounce signals off the asteroid and determine its size more accurately. Similar radar observations were being made by astronomers at Evpatoria in the Ukraine.