Asteroid makes close approach to Earth as close as Moon

An asteroid up to half a mile wide was due to have brushed past the Earth early today, approaching almost as close as the Moon.

In astronomical terms, that counts as a near miss, but scientists who had been tracking the path of asteroid 2004 XP14 were not worried as it approached at about ten miles per second.

Nevertheless, the body has been classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA) along with 782 known others.

The object, discovered in December 2004, is one of a class of "Apollo" asteroids, whose orbits cross that of the Earth. Initially there were concerns that the body might collide with Earth later this century, reports Scotsman.

According to ninemsn, Asteroid 2004 XP14 may be almost half a million kilometres away, but an Australian astronomer says there is a chance it could one day collide with Earth.

But he says the planet is safe for at least another century.

"This asteroid could potentially one day collide with earth," said Rob McNaught, who is one of only two astronomers in the southern hemisphere carrying out systematic surveys on comets and asteroids.

"The orbit of the asteroid and the orbit of the earth form a crossroad, so there's a point in space where the two orbits intersect.

"But certainly within the next 100 years there's no possibility of it colliding with Earth."

Mr McNaught is part of the Spaceguard program, which uses a telescope belonging to the Australian National University (ANU) through NASA funding.

In recent days, he has been monitoring the asteroid from his base at Siding Spring, at Coonabarabran, in north-western NSW.

"Just like at an airport where they use radar to see where all the aircraft are, you can use radar to find out exactly how far away the asteroid is and also what its exact speed is," Mr McNaught said.

It was anticipated that asteroid 2004 XP14, as it's been dubbed, would be visible through good amateur telescopes.

Its closest approach to Earth, would above the west coast of North America.

Calculations suggest it would be about 268,873 miles (432,709km) from the Earth, only 1.1 times the planet's distance from the Moon.

Scientists are hoping to calculate the precise size and shape of it by bouncing high frequency radio waves off its surface, informs All Headline News.