Near miss! Asteroid as strong as 15 atomic bombs whizzes past earth

Ruth Doherty

The planet had a lucky escape from calamity as an asteroid as powerful as 15 atomic bombs whizzed past Earth last night, coming closer than the orbit of the moon.

Astronomers first spotted the cigar-shaped rock spinning through space on Monday evening and tracked it through the atmosphere.

Thankfully, the 50m long rock that could have destroyed entire countries went barely noticed as it passed earth at a distance of some 220,000 miles.

Don Yeomans from Nasa told 'Usually, when we see an asteroid strobe on and off like that, it means that the body is elongated and we are viewing it broadside along its long axis first, and then on its narrow end as it rotates.

'Asteroid 2011 GP59 is approximately 50m long, and we think its period of rotation is about seven-and-a-half minutes. This makes the object's brightness change every four minutes or so.'

The asteroid, which was recorded with an 11-inch telescope, was about 2,081,000 miles away from Earth at the time.

It was picked up by astronomers at the Observatorio Astronomico de Mallorca in Andalusia, Spain, who've since determined that it's heading towards us.

Last night, the cosmic rock passed just outside the moon's orbit at a relatively close distance of around 220,000 miles. That distance from Earth is around ten times the length that the moon is from Earth.

But space experts said there was no need to be concerned about the asteroid, which is five times bigger than the one that exploded over Indonesia in 2009, as a direct hit on earth would be highly unlikely.

Yeoman added: 'There is no possibility of the small space rock entering Earth's atmosphere during this pass or for the foreseeable future.'

Phew! That Easter holiday's definitely still on then...

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