Phew! Small asteroid harmlessly whizzes by Earth | SierraSun.com

Phew! Small asteroid harmlessly whizzes by Earth

The Associated Press

PASADENA, Calif. ” An asteroid about the size of one that blasted Siberia a century ago came close to Earth but harmlessly zipped past earlier this week, scientists reported.

The space rock ” 2009 DD45 ” skirted about 40,000 miles from Earth’s surface on Monday ” about a fifth of the distance to the moon but higher than many telecommunications satellites.

“This was pretty darn close,” astronomer Timothy Spahr of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said Wednesday.

The asteroid measured between 69 feet and 154 feet across. Scientists say asteroids that size swing by Earth every month, although most tend to be farther away.

The so-called Tunguska object was about the same size. It exploded over Siberia in 1908 and leveled more than 800 square miles of forest.

In 2004, the tiny 2004 FU162 came within 4,000 miles of Earth.

Scientists at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia spotted and began tracking 2009 DD45 in late February when it was about 1 million miles away.

Spahr said he knew within an hour of the discovery that it would pose no threat to Earth.

At its closest point, the asteroid passed over the Pacific Ocean near Tahiti. Skywatchers with telescopes could have seen the object from Australia and Japan.

Last year, the asteroid 2008 TC3 harmlessly burned up in Earth’s atmosphere over Africa 19 hours after it was discovered.

Astronomers gave the world a six-hour notice warning of the fiery plunge.