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Asteroid whizzes past, meteor rattles Urals


Astronomers say an asteroid has whizzed safely past Earth over the Indian Ocean, as injured Russians recovered from a separate meteor's sonic boom over the Ural mountains. Scientists said the two events were unrelated.

Live images from a telescope at the Gingin Observatory in western Australia showed the asteroid looking like a white streak across the black night sky.

"It's on its way out," said Paul Chodas of NASA's Near-Earth Object program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California as the asteroid DA14 streaked past, some 27,357 kilometers (23, 230 miles) above the Earth's surface.

With the naked eye, it was too small to see, even at its nearest point of land on Sumatra.

Earlier, the US space agency NASA had insisted that a smaller meteoric fireball over Russia on Friday was a "completely unrelated" spectacle.

The widely-filmed fireball had entered the atmosphere, measuring about 15 meters (16 yards) across before disintegrating, while travelling in the opposition direction, from north to south, said NASA on its website.

The larger Indian Ocean asteroid, put at 45 meters wide, passed over the Earth from south to north, it said.

The European Space Agency said its experts had also determined there was no link between the two objects. Russian Academy of Science astronomer Sergei Barabonov also said there was no evidence that the meteor had been traveling on the same path as the asteroid.

Ural windows shattered

The meteor's super-sonic disintegration 30-50 kilometers (19-31 miles) above central Russia left 1,200 residents including 200 children with injuries, mostly gashes from the glass shards of shattered windows, according to Russian authorities.

One leftover of the meteor punched a hole in the ice of the frozen Cherbakul Lake in the affected Chelyabinsk region, which is a hub of Russia's military and defense industry.

The DA14, which was first spotted by Spanish scientists early last year, is thought to originate from the solar system's asteroid belt situated between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Some occasionally break out of the belt, providing a rare opportunity for viewing, say scientists.

Listings needed, says expert

Former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, who chairs a foundation that aims to develop spacecraft to nudge such objects out of the Earth's way, said so far only one percent of the 500,000 to one million sizeable near-Earth objects had been listed in inventories.

"We are a shooting gallery, and this is graphic evidence of it," said Schweikart, referring to Friday's Ural meteor.

Sixty-five million years ago, a much larger asteroid hit Earth, forming the Gulf of Mexico and contributing to the extinction of dinosaurs. It had an estimated diameter of 9.6 kilometers (6 miles).

Simon Goodwin, an astrophysicist at Britain's University of Sheffield said roughly 1,000 to 10,000 tons of material rain down from space toward Earth every day. But, most of it burned up while entering the atmosphere, Goodwin said.

ipj/kms (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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