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More deadly asteroids on NASA's radar

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By Gannett News Service
Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 7:24 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — The bad news, earthlings: More than 10,000 asteroids big enough to level a large city continually brush past the globe undetected.

The good news: There's an “extremely remote” chance any of them hitting us in the next hundred years, according to NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. and Obama administration officials who appeared on Tuesday before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

The meeting addressed how well the federal government tracks “near-Earth objects” and how prepared the world would be to avoid colliding with one.

Lawmakers convened the hearing a little more than a month after two very rare events took place the same day: On Feb. 15, a small asteroid passed within 17,000 miles of Earth, and a meteor exploded over Russia, injuring more than 1,000 people.

The meteor was a surprise, but data suggests scientists are doing a much better job locating these high-speed, wayward missiles — thanks largely to improved technology and Congress' insistence in recent years that threats from space receive more attention.

In 1998, NASA found several hundred near-Earth objects. By 2012, the tally had reached nearly 10,000. Ninety-five percent of those were larger than 1 kilometer across — big enough to wipe out everyone on Earth.

Lawmakers are worried about midsized asteroids as much as 300 meters long that aren't being detected, even if the threat of collision is incredibly tiny. A direct hit by an asteroid that size could flatten a city. The meteor that exploded over Russia was about 17 meters long.

An estimated 13,000 to 20,000 midsized asteroids threatened the Earth last year, and only about 10 percent were spotted, White House science adviser John Holdren told the committee.

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