A Moscow State University astrophysicist has discovered a mountain-sized asteroid that could possibly be heading for a collision with Earth.
Asteroid 2014 UR116, as the space rock is called, has a diameter of about 370 meters, a little bigger than the 325 meter Apophis asteroid that raised concerns in 2004 because it was projected to crash into our planet or the moon in 2029 or 2036 but whose feared impact had already been ruled out by scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) last year.
Should UR116 crash into Earth, the resulting explosion could be 8,000 times more powerful than the impact of the bus-sized meteor that exploded over the Chelyabinsk region in Russia in February 2013. The Chelyabinsk meteorite was only about 17 meters and is significantly smaller compared with the asteroid 2014 UR116 but its explosion has caused extensive damage and a number of injuries.
Russian astrophysicist Vladimir Lipunov, who discovered the asteroid that crosses paths with our planet every three years, said that while 2014 UR116 does not pose immediate threat, it is important that the asteroid is monitored.
"We need to permanently track this asteroid, because even a small mistake in calculations could have serious consequences," Lipunov said saying that calculating the orbit of big rocks such as this near-Earth asteroid is difficult because their trajectories are often changed by the gravitational pull of other planets.
While news about the asteroid potentially colliding with Earth raised concerns about a looming apocalypse, NASA said that 2014 UR116 is nothing to fear of. In a bid to pacify public fear, the U.S. space agency issued a statement about the asteroid not posing danger at all. It said that the asteroid's orbital path is not close enough to our planet for it to be considered as a threat.
"While this approximately 400-meter sized asteroid has a three year orbital period around the sun and returns to the Earth's neighborhood periodically, it does not represent a threat because its orbital path does not pass sufficiently close to the Earth's orbit," NASA said in a statement.
NASA also said that Minor Planet Center Director Tim Spahr recomputed the orbit of the asteroid after finding out that it was the same object that was observed several years ago. With the aid of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office Sentry system, he found that the object does not pose threats to Earth or any planet in the next 150 years.