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Scientists warn of asteroid threat

Scientists warn of asteroid threat

LONDON, England -- Scientists are monitoring a two-kilometre-wide asteroid that could be on a collision course with Earth.

The asteroid, dubbed 2002 NT7, is travelling at 28 kilometres per second and there is a chance, initial calculations indicate, that it could hit our planet on February 1, 2019.

Astronomers believe the asteroid, discovered through the Linear Observatory's automated sky survey programme in New Mexico in the U.S. on July 5, could be the most threatening object yet detected in space.

It is the first object to be given a positive value, of 0.06, on the Palermo scale of potential threat posed by asteroids, although scientists said further calculations were needed to pin the precise path of 2002 NT7.

Two-kilometre-wide asteroid sparks concern. CNN's George Bryant reports (July 25)

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NASA animation of the orbital path of 2002 MN 
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Astronomers across the world are now keeping a close eye on the asteroid, which circles the sun every 837 days and travels in a tilted orbit from about the distance of Mars to just within the Earth's orbit.

British MP Lembit Opik, who has been a strong voice behind the formation of Spaceguard UK which tracks objects in space, called for urgent preventative action.

He said such an asteroid could cause tidal waves, massive fires, provoke volcanic activity and the "electromagnetic pulse would fry most of the electronics on earth."

He added: "Seventeen years is not a long time to divert it, if it really is coming our way."

However, scientists said on Wednesday that the calculations are preliminary and the risk to the planet was low.

"The threat is very minimal," Donald Yeomans, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, told the BBC.

"An object of this size would be expected to hit the Earth every few million years, and as we get additional data I think this threat will go away."


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