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Feb 16, 2013 1:25 AM by John Patrick

Asteroid flies close to earth

TUCSON - Two big astral events today offering scientists at the University of Arizona a rare look into the process behind these events.

Residents of Russia's Ural Mountains woke up to a streak of light and explosion of sound as a meteorite broke apart above the region. It shattered windows and blew out doors while injuring more than a thousand people, mostly by flying glass.

Ed Beshore, UA Senior Staff Scientist, says the meteorite that caused the problems in Russia was likely about 10 meters long, roughly the size of a bus. Imagine the damage caused by something 15 times that size.

An asteroid dubbed 2012 DA14 is half the length of a football field and is also whizzing by earth today. However, unlike the Russian meteorite this morning it is passing by earth harmlessly.

Beshore says, "2012 DA14 which will be passing about 17,000 miles away from the earth, harmlessly, is about 50 meters in diameter.

According to Beshore an asteroid of this size has never passed this close to earth in the fifteen years they've been tracking asteroids and the scientists are excited about the opportunity to study it.

"We're also going to be studying some of the characteristics that will allow us to better predict its path as well as the orbits of other like asteroids," explains Beshore

Asteroid orbits are a particular concern for the U of A led OSIRIS-REx mission as they plan to send a craft to study another asteroid. Beshore who is also the Deputy Principle Investigator of the OSIRIS-REx Mission says this object is much larger, 450 feet long, and could impact earth in the 22nd century.

"It's pretty large, it is a near earth object and it does represent one of the highest probabilities of impact with the earth," describes Beshore.

The asteroid, 1999 RQ36, has a 1 in 2400 chance of colliding with earth but not until the year 2182.

The OSIRIS-REx heads to 1999 RQ36 in the year 2016. For more information on this mission head to the OSIRIS-REx homepage by clicking here.

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