Asteroid Collision

An extinction-level event is unlikely, but "airbursts" could flatten a city
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On June 13 an asteroid called 2007 XB10 with a diameter of 1.1 kilometers—and the potential to cause major global damage—will zip past Earth. As far as near-Earth objects go, it will pass, fortunately, pretty far, at 10.6 million kilometers, or 27.6 times the Earth-moon distance. Indeed, no giant asteroids appear poised to rewrite history any time soon. The bad news is that we can expect in the next 200 years a small space rock to burst in the atmosphere with enough force to devastate a small city.

A near-Earth object (NEO) is an asteroid or comet that comes within 195 million kilometers of the planet. In 2009 NASA tallied 90 as approaching within five lunar distances and 21 within one lunar distance or less. NEO hunters typically detect them as specks on images, and such momentary glimpses can make their orbits hard to calculate. So researchers can only lay odds of an impact as they await more data. NASA has spotted 940 NEOs one kilometer or more in diameter (about 85 percent of the estimated total of that size), and none will collide with Earth. (The NEO that wiped out the dinosaurs was about 10 kilometers wide.)

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