Asteroid comes close to hitting the Earth

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The Independent Online

An asteroid the size of a football pitch came within 75,000 miles of hitting the Earth last week – and causing as much devastation as a nuclear weapon.

An asteroid the size of a football pitch came within 75,000 miles of hitting the Earth last week – and causing as much devastation as a nuclear weapon.

But it was not detected until three days after it had passed, by astronomers in New Mexico. The discovery has reinforced calls for better funding to detect such "near-Earth objects".

Known simply as 2002MN, the asteroid was travelling at more than 23,000mph relative to the Earth, and passed by well within the orbit of the Moon – only the sixth asteroid known to have done so.

Had it hit us, the devastation could have been comparable to that experienced in the remote Tunguska region in Siberia in 1908. There, 2,000 square kilometres of forest were flattened and scorched. Had 2002MN come down over a populated area, it would have killed thousands of people in a fireball as it broke up in the atmosphere.

Dr Benny Peiser, from Liverpool John Moore's University, said: "Such near misses highlight the importance of detecting these objects. "

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