NASA is tracking what is expected to be one of the largest asteroids to visit the Earth this year – and it's set to make a "Near Earth Approach" by the end of this month.
The massive space rock, dubbed 418135 (2008 AG33), is estimated to measure somewhere between 1,083 feet and 2,428 feet in diameter according to observations from CNEOS – NASA's centre for computing asteroid and comet orbits.
At NASA's largest estimate the rock is over five times the size of the 443-foot London Eye, and even at the lower end of the scale it would be taller than the Eiffel Tower.
At that size it would cause widespread devastation if it hit the Earth, but luckily for humanity at its closest approach it will pass by us at a distance of some two million miles.
A close shave as far as astronomers are concerned – but nothing to worry about for the rest of us.
Which is just as well because at present we have no means of defending ourselves against a "city killer" asteroid.
At the moment of its closest approach, 2008 AG33 is predicted to be travelling at an incredible 23,200 miles per hour – over ten times faster than a speeding bullet.
Even though the asteroid is expected to pass us by with out incident on this occasion it’s still on NASA’s list of “potentially hazardous objects” because it’s more than 450 feet across and its orbit brings it within 4.6 million miles of the Earth.
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CNEOS director Paul Chodas explained to Newsweek that while none of the known potentially hazardous objects are currently on a collision course with our planet, their paths ”come close enough to Earth's that it is possible over many centuries and millennia they might evolve into Earth-crossing orbits.
“So it is prudent to keep tracking these asteroids for decades to come,” he said, “to study how their orbits might be evolving."
SpaceX entrepreneur Elon Musk has said that the danger of a colossal asteroid impact wiping out civilisation is one good reason why we should colonise Mars.
In an interview with TED talk boss Chris Anderson, Musk explained that he’s deliberately keeping the price of the one-way trip low: “We want to make it available for anyone who wants to go” to Mars, he said.
Musk warns, though, that even after paying some £76,000 the first Mars colonists will have to rough it. “It will not be luxurious,” he says.
Building the first city on Mars will be “dangerous, cramped, difficult, hard work”.
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