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Researchers "anticipate" asteroid will pass Earth safely in 2040

Baku, June 18 (AZERTAC). NASA researchers anticipate that a 460 foot (140 meters) wide asteroid will fly safely past and not impact Earth in 2040, the space agency said on Friday.

NASA made the announcement after reviewing data on the asteroid during a workshop last month at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

“Observations to date indicate there is a slight chance that asteroid 2011 AG5 could impact Earth in 2040,” NASA said on Friday. On the other hand, researchers “expressed confidence that in the next four years, analysis of space and ground-based observations will show the likelihood of 2011 AG5 missing Earth to be greater than 99 percent.”

The space rock was discovered by the NASA-supported Catalina Sky Survey operated by the University of Arizona in Tucson. Several observatories monitored 2011 AG5 for nine months before it moved too far away and grew too faint to see.

"There is only a very small chance that we could be dealing with a real impact scenario for this object,” said Lindley Johnson, program executive for the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Observation Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We will still be watchful and ready to take further action if additional observations indicate it is warranted.”

Several years ago another asteroid, named Apophis, was thought to pose a similar impact threat in 2036. Additional observations taken from 2005 through 2008 enabled NASA scientists to refine their understanding of the asteroid's path, which showed a significantly reduced likelihood of a hazardous encounter with Earth.

"Any time we're able to observe an asteroid and obtain new location data, we're able to refine our calculations of the asteroid's future path," said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's NEO Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Observations of 2011 AG5 have been limited to date because of its present location beyond the orbit of Mars and in the daytime sky on the other side of the sun. In the fall 2013, conditions will improve to allow space- and ground-based telescopes to better track the asteroid's path. At that time, 2011 AG5 will be 91 million miles (147 million kilometers) from Earth. The level of hazard will gain even more clarity in 2023, when the asteroid is approximately 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers) from Earth.

If 2011 AG5 passes through a 227-mile-wide (365-kilometer) region in space called a keyhole in early February 2023, Earth's gravitational pull could influence the object's orbital path just enough to bring it back for an impact on Feb. 5, 2040. If the asteroid misses the keyhole, an impact in 2040 will not occur.

 

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