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No chance for 2011 MD asteroid to enter the Earth's atmosphere: Australian astronomers

CANBERRA, June 27 — There is no chance for an asteroid, which is set to pass within 12,000 kilometers of Earth on Monday night, to enter the Earth's atmosphere, Australian astronomers said on Monday.

Asteroid 2011 MD, a chunk of rock roughly calculated to have width in the range of 25 to 55 feet, is set to pass by the Earth on Monday night (Australia Time). Scientists at National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the asteroid will pass at a distance of less than 7,500 miles (12,000 kilometers) above the surface of the Earth.

Fred Watson from the Australian Astronomical Observatory said there is no chance it will enter the Earth's atmosphere, and would pose no threat to life on Earth.

"Absolutely no possibility," he told ABC News on Monday. "Its orbit is very well defined. Its nearest approach will be 12,000 kilometers. It's nowhere near the vicinity of the Earth."

He said the asteroid will, however, come close to several communications satellites.

"There is no danger of a collision though," he said.

"On the incoming trajectory of the asteroid it will pass outside the geosynchronous satellite and when it's outgoing it will pass inside.

"There are satellites that orbit at that distance but there aren't many of them. Most are either in a much lower or higher orbit."

Watson said the passing of asteroid will look similar to a shooting star, but will move much more gracefully across the sky.

He said the object is "tiny", and will only be visible from large telescopes in South Africa.

Meanwhile, Watson said astronomers are also keeping a close eye on an asteroid called Apophis, which will come very close to the Earth in 2029.

"It's not impossible that something will collide with the Earth in the future. There are objects we know will present a potential threat," he said.

"In 2029 there is one that will pass very close to the Earth but probably won't hit the Earth. But depending on how near the Earth it goes, it might be deflected into an orbit that will take it onto a collision course, probably in the 2030s."

According to the ranking charts of International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center in Massachusetts, 2011 MD will be the fifth-closest asteroid to graze past Earth.

In the past, three asteroids have zoomed past Earth at a closer distance, including a tiny asteroid (2011 CQ1) which flew by on February 4 this year after coming as close as 3,400 miles away from Earth's surface.

The fourth, an asteroid named 2008 TC3 had entered Earth's atmosphere on October 7, 2008, but disintegrated into tiny pieces at a height of around 23 miles off the ground. (PNA/Xinhua) scs/utb

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