Giant asteroid to bypass Earth - just

An asteroid about half a football field in diameter will hurtle just 28,000 kilometres past Earth next week.

Details of the ancient asteroid, named 2012 DA14, are sketchy, the European Space Agency says.

From its brightness, scientists estimate its diameter to be between 50m and 80m. Its composition is unknown and its mass is thought to be about 130,000 tonnes.

Detlef Koschny, responsible for near-Earth objects at European Space Agency's Space Situational Awareness office, said the orbit of the asteroid can be computed "quite accurately".

"These computations show that a collision with Earth can be excluded quite safely at least for this century," Koschny says.

On February 16 at 8am (NZ time), the asteroid will make its closest pass to our planet this century when it flies by at 7.8 km/s at a distance of just within 28,000 km.

"This is well inside the geostationary ring, where many communication satellites are located," Koschny says. "There is no danger to these satellites, however, as the asteroid will come 'from below' and not intersect the geostationary belt."

The asteroid was discovered by the La Sagra Sky Survey in Spain, on February 22 last year.

"If this object were made of iron and it were to hit our planet, it could create a crater comparable to the 1.5km Meteor Crater near Flagstaff, Arizona, for example," Koschny says. "However, it won't."

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- nzherald.co.nz

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