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Mini-asteroid sneaks up on Earth

Lunchtime flyby for diminutive rock

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

A diminutive asteroid will today pass within 76,000 miles (122,000 km) of Earth at 12:46 GMT, although NASA has confirmed Bruce Willis's services will not be required.

Path of asteroid 2010 AL30. Graphic: NASA/JPL

The body - dubbed 2010 AL30 - was discovered by the LINEAR survey of MIT's Lincoln Laboratories on 10 January. Since its orbital period is "nearly identical to the Earth's one year period", there have been suggestions it may be a rocket stage orbiting the Sun.

However, NASA explains that its orbit "reaches the orbit of Venus at its closest point to the sun and nearly out to the orbit of Mars at its furthest point, crossing the Earth's orbit at a very steep angle".

Furthermore, "trajectory extrapolations show that this object cannot be associated with any recent launch and it has not made any close approaches to the Earth since well before the Space Age began". Accordingly, it's "very unlikely" that the object is man-made, and it's probably a near-Earth asteroid roughly "10-15 meters in size".

Even if 2010 AL30 were on a collision course with our planet, it would be incapable of disrupting Earthlings' lunchtime plans, since "stony asteroids under 25 meters in diameter would be expected to burn up in our atmosphere", NASA concludes. ®

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