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Extensive monitoring systems and an 'Armageddon-style' protocol is needed to save the Earth from a potentially hazardous asteroid, expected to fly by our planet in 2029, experts say.
The Apophis asteroid, first detected in 2004, will come within 36,000 km of Earth when it passes by and it can be seen with the naked eye as a burning point in the sky. Scientists said although there is no chance of the asteroid colliding with Earth, there is an extremely small chance it could fall into a gravitational loop and come back to hit the planet in 2038. The asteroid which passed by this week, known as 2012 XE54 measured just 36 metre across, but the last known asteroid of such a size to hit Earth wiped out an area of Russian forest the size of London in 1908.
Scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the possible impact of asteroids measuring less than 1 km across, which are not typically picked up by surveying programmes and could only be detected at very short notice. Delegates from across the world will gather at the UN in February to come up with a framework for earlier detection of asteroids, and a plan of action if a collision is deemed possible.
"The theory is that if you can see it soon enough, you can deal with it. What we want to avoid is dealing with something that is only a couple of years away from impact - not only for technical reasons but also on the policy front," Richard Crowther, chief engineer at the UK Space Agency, said. "Moving an asteroid's point of impact away from Britain, for example, could potentially move it towards America or Europe like a red laser moving across a map, and as that happens obviously people are going to want to have some say about where it passes," he said.
He said rather than only seeking asteroids 1km or larger in diameter, astronomers should be on the lookout for anything larger than 100m. Firing missiles at an asteroid may not be effective, he explained, because most are loose collections of rock which could re-form again after being broken up in the explosion, the report said.
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